William Crapo "Billy" Durant (December 8, 1861 – March 18, 1947) was
a leading pioneer of the
United States automobile industry, who
created the system of multi-brand holding companies with different
lines of cars; and the co-founder of
General Motors with Frederic L.
Smith, and of
Chevrolet with Louis Chevrolet. He also founded
3 General Motors
3.1 Other acquisitions
3.3 Vertical integration
3.4 Durant Motors
Wall Street and later years
5 Durant's Castle
7 Further reading
8 External links
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Durant was the son of William Clark
Durant and Rebecca Folger Crapo, who was born to a wealthy
Massachusetts family of French descent, she being the daughter of
Michigan governor Henry H. Crapo. William dropped out of high school
to work in his grandfather's lumberyard. He started out as a cigar
salesman in Flint, Michigan, and eventually moved to selling
In 1886 he partnered with
Josiah Dallas Dort
Josiah Dallas Dort to found Flint Road Cart
Company eventually transforming $2,000 in start-up capital into a
$2-million business with sales around the world. By 1890, the
Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, had become a leading
manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles and in 1900 the largest in the
Durant was highly skeptical of cars, thinking that they were stinky,
loud, and dangerous, to a point where he would not let his daughter
ride in one. By 1900, public outcry for government regulation of
gasoline-powered horseless carriages was significant. Durant heard
this outcry, and rather than relying on government regulations to
improve their safety, saw an opportunity to build a successful company
by improving on the safety of these new machines. To accomplish this,
he sought out the purchase of Buick, a local car company with few
sales and large debts.
Durant conceived the modern system of automobile dealer franchises.
William Durant was a millionaire from his holdings in the Durant-Dort
Carriage Company. On November 1, 1904 he assumed control of the
Buick Motor Company
Buick Motor Company and mobilized the financial and
manufacturing resources of Durant-Dort to correct Buick's course.
Despite having no manufacturing line and only a handful of extant
cars, Durant tallied over 1,100 orders at the 1905 New York Automobile
Show. Durant pushed the brand, and in four years Buick was the
best-selling automobile in America, outstripping earlier leaders Ford
Motor Company, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile. Durant and Samuel McLaughlin,
McLaughlin's being the largest carriage manufacturer in Canada, signed
a 15-year contract to build Buick power trains at cost-plus pricing.
With Buick as a base, Durant envisioned creating a large automobile
company that would manufacture several makes and control subsidiary
component-making companies, much as Durant-Dort had done in the
carriage-making world. Durant founded
General Motors Holding
Company on September 16, 1908 and exchanged a large parcel of Buick
stock for a matching parcel of McLaughlin stock making McLaughlin one
of General Motors' biggest shareholders. In 1909 Durant's GM bought
Oldsmobile and Oakland Motor Car, later called Pontiac,
and many parts-manufacturing companies, paint and varnish companies,
axle and wheel companies, etc., and merged them with GM.
However, Durant had overextended himself with imprudent acquisitions,
and in 1910
General Motors faced a cash shortage. In the aftermath,
Durant was forced out of the company by a consortium of bankers.
Not to be defeated, Durant backed Louis Chevrolet's eponymous company
in 1911; J. Dallas Dort was vice-president and director of the
company. In 1913, Dort stepped down as vice-president of
Chevrolet, and in 1914 Durant disposed of his share of the
Durant-Dort Carriage Company. By 1916, Durant had leveraged
Chevrolet's sales to regain control of General Motors, and he went on
to lead GM until 1920.
Durant, center, chatting with President Hinz of the Lowell,
Automobile Club in 1909
On October 26, 1909,
General Motors Holding acquired the Cartercar
Company, founded four years earlier in Jackson, Michigan, by Byron J.
Carter. In explaining the reason he purchased Cartercar, Durant said:
"They say I shouldn't have bought Cartercar. Well, how was anyone to
know that Carter wasn't to be the thing? It had the friction drive and
no other car had it. How could I tell what these engineers would say
next?" By the time Durant had regained control of
General Motors in
1915, the GM board had already decided to discontinue the Cartercar,
largely because sales never approached the 1000-2000 annually that
Durant had predicted. The GM board decided to use the factory instead
to produce the Oakland.
Durant had arranged an $8-million deal to buy Ford in 1909, but the
bankers turned him down and the board of directors of General Motors
Both Durant and rival
Henry Ford foresaw the automobile becoming a
mass-market item. Ford followed the course of the basic Model T, and
had said "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants
so long as it is black." Durant, however, drawing on his
experience in the carriage business, sought to create automobiles
targeted to various incomes and tastes. This brought about his
plans to merge Buick with various other companies to serve this
purpose. He purchased Cadillac, and in 1908 formed
General Motors by
consolidating 13 car companies and 10 parts-and-accessories
In 1910, Durant became financially overextended and banking interests
assumed control, forcing him from management of GM Holding. He
immediately set out to create another "GM", starting with the Little
car, named after its founder, William H. Little. His initial intention
was to compete with the Ford Model T, then beginning to show its
impending popularity. Unsatisfied with this approach, however, he
abandoned it and went into partnership with Louis
Chevrolet in 1911,
after obtaining a loan of $52,935.25 on September 30, 1910, in Canada
cosigned by R S McLaughlin, starting the
Chevrolet company. Before
long, a disagreement with Louis
Chevrolet resulted in Durant buying
out his partner in 1914. Durant went to McLaughlin in 1915 to put
Chevrolet in Canada and with the shares being bought up at five to one
and seven to one, McLaughlin and Durant with other shareholders had
enough stock to reclaim Durant's old job. McLaughlin had no problem
with his friend back at the helm. McLaughlin went on building
Chevrolet and built his Buicks in Canada without conflict to his Buick
General Motors Corporation was started at this time with
Durant putting Pierre du Pont in charge, with McLaughlin Director and
Vice President of the newly incorporated
General Motors Corporation in
Nevertheless, the venture was so successful for Durant, he was able to
buy enough shares in GM to regain control, becoming its president in
1916. During his presidency from 1916–1920, Durant brought the
Chevrolet product line into the corporation in 1919, as well as Fisher
Body and Frigidaire. In 1920, he finally lost control of GM to the
DuPont and McLaughlin shareholders, paying out $21,000,000 back to his
While in charge of Chevrolet, Durant acquired other companies,
including Republic Motors, mainly to produce Chevrolet.
He was inducted into the
Automotive Hall of Fame
Automotive Hall of Fame in 1968.
Drawing on his experience in the carriage-making business 20 years
earlier, Durant also assembled a collection of parts and components
manufacturers into a new entity called United Motors Company, making
Alfred P. Sloan
Alfred P. Sloan of
Hyatt Roller Bearing Company
Hyatt Roller Bearing Company the president. It was
made up of Hyatt Roller Bearing, New Departure Manufacturing, Dayton
Engineering Laboratories (later Delco Electronics Corporation),
Harrison Radiator Corporation, Remy Electric, Jaxon Steel Products,
and Perlman Rim. In 1918, United Motors was sold to
General Motors for
$44,065,000. Sloan rose to president of GM in the 1920s, going on to
build the company into the world's largest automaker.
In 1921, Durant established a new company, Durant Motors, initially
with one brand. Within two years, it had a variety of marques,
including the Durant, Star (also called Rugby), Flint, and Eagle,
rivalling the range offered by General Motors. Part of the new empire
included a factory in Leaside, Ontario, for Canadian production.
As he had with General Motors, Durant acquired a range of companies
whose cars were aimed at different markets. The cheapest brand was the
Star, aimed at the person who would otherwise buy the obsolescent
Model T, while the Durant cars were mid-market, the Princeton line
(designed, prototyped, and marketed but never produced) competed with
Packard and Cadillac, and the ultra-luxurious Locomobile was the top
of the line. However, he was unable to duplicate his former success,
and the financial woes of the
Wall Street Crash of 1929
Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the
Great Depression proved fatal as the company failed in
Wall Street and later years
The mausoleum of William C. Durant
In the 1920s, Durant became a major "player" on
Wall Street and on
Black Tuesday joined with members of the
Rockefeller family and other
financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks, against the advice
of friends, to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the
stock market. His effort proved costly and failed to stop the market
slide. By 1936, the 75-year-old Durant was bankrupt.
After the fall of Durant Motors, Durant and his second wife, Catherine
Lederer Durant, lived on a small pension provided by R. S. McLaughlin,
Mr. Marr and Dupont as arranged by
Alfred P. Sloan
Alfred P. Sloan at $10,000.00 a
year on behalf of General Motors. He suffered a stroke in 1942, which
left him "a semi-invalid", and managed a bowling alley, slinging
hamburgers in Flint until his death in 1947 in New York, which is
where many people believed he spent his last days. He was interred in
a private mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
He was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S.
Business Hall of Fame
Durant Park in
Lansing, Michigan is named after him, as is Waterford
Durant High School in Waterford, Michigan.
During the late 1920s Durant's son, Russell Clifford (Cliff) Durant
and his third wife, Lea Gapsky Durant, started construction on a
personal castle and private airstrip in Roscommon, Michigan, along the
south branch of the Au Sable River. The 54-room mansion burned to the
ground under mysterious circumstances on February 6, 1931. The Durants
never inhabited it. Arson was suspected, allegedly at the hands of
trade unionists, whom Durant had refused to recognize.
After Lea's mysterious disappearance in 1934, and Cliff's death in
1937, Cliff's fourth wife, Charlotte Phillips Durant, sold the land to
George W. Mason
George W. Mason (of Nash Motors), an automotive executive. Upon his
death, it was bequeathed to the State of Michigan as a nature
preserve, the Mason Tract. All that remains of the castle and private
airstrip are the old foundation works. Today, a canoe landing and
short history of the castle are on the site.
^ "Invisible Manor History: Early Owner". Retrieved 16 February
2015. [permanent dead link]
^ "University of Michigan-Flint: Henry Howland Crapo Family".
Retrieved 16 February 2015.
^ "GW and Foggy Bottom Historical Encyclopedia: Margery Durant".
Archived from the original on 16 February 2015. Retrieved 16 February
^ a b c d Dr. Burton W. Folsom (1998-09-08). "Billy Durant and the
General Motors [Mackinac Center]". Mackinac.org. Retrieved
^ a b c d e f g Yates, Brock. "10 Best Moguls", in Car and Driver,
^ a b c d e Christian, Ralph J. (March 1977). "National Register of
Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Durant-Dort Carriage Company
Office / Arrowhead Veterans Club" (pdf). National Park Service.
and Accompanying three photos, exterior, from 1977 (32 KB)
^ a b Pelfrey, William (2006). Billy, Alfred, and General Motors: The
Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in
American History. AMACOM. pp. 83–85; 95–96; 106.
ISBN 978-0-8144-0869-8. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
^ a b Sherosky, Frank (December 23, 2009). "Remembering Josiah Dallas
Dort and his automobile". Detroit Automotive Technology
Examiner. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Wood, Edwin Orin (1916), History of Genesee County, Michigan: Her
People, Industries and Institutions, Volume 1, Federal Publishers,
p. 778, retrieved April 7, 2013
^ Pelfrey, William. Billy, Alfred, and
General Motors (New York, New
York: AMACOM, 2006), p.151.
^ "Happy 100th Birthday, General Motors". Motor Trend. August
^ Ford, Henry; Crowther, Samuel (1922), My Life and Work, Garden City,
New York, USA: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc. Various
republications, including ISBN 9781406500189. Original is public
domain in U.S. Also available at Google Books. Chapter IV.
^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American
Victory in World War II, pp. 18, 26-7, Random House, New York, NY.
^  Archived October 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Full text of "The turning wheel; the story of General Motors
through twenty-five years, 1908-1933"". Archive.org. Retrieved
^ "Library of Congress: William Crapo Durant, 1861-1947". Retrieved 16
^ Quinn, James (May 31, 2009). "GM: Its rise, fall and future". The
Daily Telegraph. London.
Pelfrey, William (2007). Billy, Alfred and General Motors. Amacom
Madsen, Axel (2000). The Deal Maker: How
William C. Durant
William C. Durant Made
General Motors. Wiley Publishing.
Gustin, Lawrence (2008). Billy Durant: Creator of General Motors.
University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-03302-7.
Weisberger, Bernard A. The Dream Maker: William C. Durant, Founder of
General Motors. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979. Print.
Billy Durant and the Founding of General Motors
Durant, William Crapo
William C. Durant
William C. Durant at Find a Grave
Durantcars.com at www.durantcars.com
History of Durant
Hear Billy Durant speak
Charles W. Nash
President General Motors
Pierre S. du Pont
1921–1932 Historic vehicles
William C. Durant
Durant-Dort Carriage Company
ISNI: 0000 0000 6319 9767
BNF: cb16271192s (da