Walter P. Chrysler, Auto Industry Pioneer

This week Chrysler celebrates the birthday of the company’s founder, namesake, and one of the true visionaries of the American auto industry: Walter Percy Chrysler.

Born April 2, 1875 in Wamego, Kansas, Chrysler spent his early manhood exploring the prairie states as a “boomer”—a traveling railroad mechanic. His specialty was timing the delicate valve mechanisms on steam locomotives, work he performed with a chest full of tools he manufactured himself.  Before he was 30 he was managing a major rail shop, and soon he was appointed superintendent of the giant American Locomotive Company works in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, another recent invention captured Chrysler’s fascination: the automobile. He purchased a Locomobile, one of the most expensive cars then available, but instead of driving it, he spent countless hours disassembling and studying the machine. In 1911 Billy Durant hired Chrysler to run his Buick auto factory in Flint, Michigan, where he quickly improved production from 45 to 600 cars per day. When Chrysler left General Motors in 1919, his stock in the corporation made him one of the richest men in America.

Chrysler founded the car company bearing his name in 1924. Its first product, the Chrysler Six, was one of the most advanced cars on the market, with a quiet, powerful engine and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. In 1928 Chrysler merged the Dodge Bros. into his company and introduced the DeSoto and Plymouth brands.  In just a few short years Chrysler had constructed the final member of Detroit’s Big Three, competing head-on with Ford and General Motors.

Other notable Chrysler business ventures include Manhattan’s iconic Chrysler Building which, during its construction, competed with the Empire State Building for the title of world’s tallest building. Walter P. Chrysler died at age 65 on August 18, 1940, but you can still find his chest of handmade mechanic’s tools on display at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

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