Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Chrysler, Walter P.

Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation, was born in Wamego, Kansas on April 2, 1875.  As a child, he learned about locomotives from his father, who worked as an engineer for the Kansas Pacific Railroad.  Chrysler spent his life working for railroads and with locomotive companies until 1911, when his career with Buick Company of General Motors began.

In 1910, William C. Durant, a founder of General Motors, lost control of the company.  Charles W. Nash, the president of the Buick division, hired Chrysler in 1911. Chrysler was able to solve engineering and production problems within the company.  When Durant re-purchased and regained the GM presidency in 1916, he fired Nash and made Chrysler the president and general manager of Buick.  Chrysler retired from Buick in 1920 because he had differences with Durant’s philosophy of never-ending expansion.  However, before his resignation, Chrysler had increased Buick’s production of cars from 40 to 500 cars a day along with insuring quality in all Buick products.

Chrysler was later hired by failing automotive company Willys-Overland.  After reducing its debt, he focused on another company with financial problems, Maxwell-Chalmers.  Chrysler was named chairman of the new Maxwell Motors after he took the Maxwell-Chalmers to auction and bought it for eleven million dollars.  His idea of a completely new and different vehicle had been turned down by Willys-Overland, but it succeeded with Maxwell-Chalmers after he convinced the financiers that it would sell.  The public responded very well, and in 1921 Maxwell sold around eighty thousand cars, with thirty-two thousand having the Chrysler marque. 

Maxwell Motors was reorganized as the Chrysler Corporation on June 6, 1925, with Walter P. Chrysler as both Chairman of the Board and President. In 1928, Chrysler Corporation acquired the Plymouth and the Dodge Brothers Corporations. 

As a testament to his success, Walter P. Chrysler worked with architect William Van Alan to design the Chrysler Building, which opened in New York City on May 27, 1930.  At 1,048 feet, it was the tallest building in the world for several months until the Empire State Building was finished. 

Chrysler was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1929. He remained president of Chrysler for seven more years until he was succeeded by K.T. Keller.  Chrysler remained Chairman of the Board until his death on August 18, 1940.



Photograph of Chrysler Bust, 1965

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