Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Durant, William C.

The founder of General Motors, William C. Durant was born in 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts. He dropped out of high school to work in Flint, Michigan at his grandfather’s lumberyard.

In 1885, Durant partnered with Josiah Dallas Dort to start the Coldwater Road Cart Company, which produced horse-drawn vehicles. They soon changed the name to Durant-Dort Carriage Company and by 1890 they were the nation’s largest carriage company, producing 50,000 vehicles a year. In 1904, James Whiting with the Buick Motor Company convinced Durant to join them as a general manager and to help promote their automobiles. Durant helped Buick lead the United States in automobile production. In 1904, Durant was made president of Buick.

The concept for General Motors began when an idea was proposed to merge the four top auto-producers, Buick, Ransom E. Olds’ Reo, Maxwell-Briscoe, and Henry Ford’s Ford, to become one large company. There were disagreements and it did not happen, but Durant was still an advocate for the idea. The original name of Durant’s proposed company was “International Motor Car Company,” but was changed to “General Motors.”

Durant bought General Motors of New Jersey in 1908; he purchased the Buick Company with stock and shortly thereafter he became the owner of the Olds Corporation of Lansing, Michigan. Durant then went on to buy Pontiac, which was called the Oakland Car Company at the time. He continued on to buy Cadillac with the cash from Buick. Durant not only purchased automobile companies, but he also bought truck and parts supply companies, including AC-Delco.

In 1910, Durant lost control of GM to the bank, but after forming Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911 with Louis Chevrolet he was able to buy it back. In 1920, Durant formed an agreement with GM’s president, Pierre du Pont, to resign from GM in exchange for Du Pont paying off his debts. For ten years after that Durant tried operating a company under his own name, Durant Motors, which he bought in 1921. The Great Depression ended his automotive career.

Durant died in New York City on March 19, 1947.