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Billy Durant

Creator of General Motors

Lawrence R.Gustin

Publication Year: 2012

Praise for the first edition: "A fascinating book [and] a sympathetic look at the man who glued General Motors together and in the process made Flint one of the great industrial centers of America." ---Detroit Free Press "It is refreshing to report that Billy Durant is one of the best researched books dealing with an automotive giant." ---Antique Automobile "Billy Durant fills in a masterly way the only important void remaining concerning the work of the motorcar pioneers." ---Richard Crabb, author of Birth of a Giant: The Men and Incidents That Gave America the Motorcar What explains Billy Durant's powerful influence on the auto industry during its early days? And why, given Durant's impact, has he been nearly forgotten for decades? In search of answers to these questions, Lawrence Gustin interviewed Durant's widow, who provided a wealth of previously unpublished autobiographical notes, letters, and personal papers. Gustin also interviewed two of Durant's personal secretaries and others who had known and worked with the man who created General Motors. The result is the amazing account of the mastermind behind what would become, as the twentieth century progressed, the world's largest company.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. 5-

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Update

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pp. 7-8

A line in this book says the importance of William C. Durant’s career will undoubtedly be appreciated more fully some day. And in the decades since Billy Durant was first published in 1973, that certainly has happened—particularly in Flint, Michigan, where his accomplishments were most obvious. Six weeks after the first edition was published, Flint Mayor Paul C. Visser proclaimed the week of Durant’s birthdate, December 8, as “William Crapo Durant Week” in Flint. Durant’s widow, Catherine, was thrilled to receive the proclamation...

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Foreword

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pp. 9-13

This account of the career of William Crapo Durant is based in part on unpublished manuscripts and documents and on interviews with his widow, two of his personal secretaries and others who knew him well. Among the manuscripts used extensively are Durant's own autobiographical notes. This manuscript of seven short typewritten chapters, plus scattered notes, is not always accurate...

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Prologue

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pp. 14-16

The new reporter in town, assigned to Detroit by a major magazine, looked out of his office window toward the huge gray bulk of the General Motors Building across the street. He noticed small decorative stones in the walls near the roof and then caught a detail-the letter "D" inscribed in some of the stonework. He telephoned one of the offices in the...

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One. The Road Cart

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pp. 17-25

It had started, he remembered, on a September evening in 1886. He was twenty-four years old then, a slightly built, already successful businessman in the old lumber town of Flint, Michigan, and, as usual, he was in a hurry. The board of directors of the city's privately owned gas company was to meet in an hour, and Billy Durant had to get over to the plant, read a...

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Two. King of the Carriage Makers

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pp. 26-48

When Billy Durant’s grandfather, Henry Howland Crapo, arrived in Flint by cutter in January of 1856, he found a settlement of 2,000 people which had incorporated as a city only a few months before. The city could trace its beginnings to 1819 or earlier, when fur trader Jacob Smith set up a trading post on the Saginaw Trail at a shallow crossing of the Flint River. The spot was advantageous...

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Three. The Horseless Carriage Comes to Flint

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pp. 49-66

By 1900 the horseless carriage had come to stay. Scores of organizations and individuals across the United States were building automobiles of some kind, and a few--notably the Olds Motor Works of Lansing and Detroit...

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Four. Buick: Rags to Riches

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pp. 67-96

It was late in August, 1904, when Billy Durant, a self-made millionaire at the age of forty-two, stepped off the train at Flint. He had heard something about James Whiting's problems with his new automobile company. Could he be of service?...

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Five. “I Must Have a Consolidation"

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pp. 97-110

Briscoe agreed. The two met ·the following morning in Flint, breakfasted at the Dresden Hotel, then went to Durant's office at Buick. Briscoe-who had sold Buick to Whiting in 1903 and who had since become president of Maxwell-Briscoe Company...

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Six. “Never Mind, We're Still Running"

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pp. 111-132

Now that Durant had a name for his holding company, he moved quickly to form a com bination. Immediately after the International Motor talks collapsed, he packed his papers and the next day left New York for Lansing....

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Seven. The Bankers Take Over

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pp. 133-144

Looking back, Durant figured that his troubles of 1910 began at an annual convention of bankers late in 1909, only about a month after the bankers in New York had knocked down his plan to buy Ford for $8 million:...

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Eight. Durant's “New Baby”— Chevrolet

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pp. 145-163

By the time he reached his forty-ninth birthday on December 8, 1910, Durant might have seemed a rather spectacular failure. Some writers in fact compared him with Halley's Comet, which had streaked through the sky earlier that year, displaying...

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Nine. “I Took General Motors Back from the Bankers Today"

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pp. 164-180

By 1915, after nearly five years of experimenting and promoting, Durant had created a respectable Chevrolet organization. Two years after the move to Flint, the company had produced about 16,000 cars, with net sales of $11. 7 million...

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Ten. Durant's Rule — and Another Collapse

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pp. 181-222

Durant's coup in reestablishing personal control of General Motors had astounded the world of business and industry. The bankers had been routed. Chevrolet held the controlling interest in General Motors and Durant and his friends controlled...

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Eleven. A Last Empire Created and Lost

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pp. 223-261

Durant was fifty-nine years old and unemployed. For the second time he had lost control of the company he had founded, and this time the ties were severed. How much money he had left is questionable. Perhaps several million dollars,...

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Epilogue

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pp. 262-279

In the 35 years between the first printing of this biography and General Motors’ centennial in 2008, more information on William C. Durant has inevitably emerged. When his papers were offered in 1972 by his widow, Catherine, and his last personal secretary,...

Chapter Notes and Bibliography

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pp. 280-291

Index

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pp. 292-300

Photo Credits

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pp. 301-

About the Author

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pp. 303-304


E-ISBN-13: 9780472029365
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472033027

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Durant, William Crapo, 1861-1947.
  • General Motors Corporation.
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