Men Who Made Cars: Walter P. Chrysler

The man who created the great, American car company known as the Chrysler Corporation, with its famed Chrysler Building, is Walter Percy Chrysler.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, Mr. Chrysler was born in 1875 in Kansas. His dad was an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad and Chrysler spent time as a boy tinkering with locomotive engine models. He worked as a grocery delivery boy, then as a janitor in Union Pacific shops, taking a pay cut to enter a four-year machinist apprenticeship program, and he worked his way up as a locomotive mechanic and manager for a locomotive company. He bought his first car, a touring car, in 1908 at the Chicago Automobile Show. He paid $ 5,000, which included all of his $ 700 savings with the rest borrowed, and he drove it into a ditch in his first time behind the steering wheel.

Chrysler took the car apart to see how it worked. Having studied engines, he figured cars could be improved, so he went to work for the Buick Motor Company for $ 6,000 a year. Under his leadership, Buick went from producing 45 cars a day to 600 a day in eight years. Moving to Maxwell Motor Company, he applied his ideas for making better cars and transformed a multi-million dollar debt to an $ 88 million profit within seven years. Walter P. Chrysler founded his own company on June 6, 1925, becoming the third largest automaker in America. He was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1928 and his autobiography, Life of an American workman, was published in 1937. Walter Chrysler died in 1940.

[sources: Kansas Historical Society, WPC News article by Mike Petersen, 11/86]

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