September 16, 1908 – The birth of General Motors

Buick Motor Car company owner William C. Durant leveraged an engine supply deal with McLaughlin Motor Car Company of Canada to found General Motors on this day in 1908. In the beginning, the Detroit headquartered GM , which positioned it self as an automotive holding company, had only Buick, under its umbrella. Within a decade it would acquire more than twenty companies.

A woman driving a 1910 Buick.

Durant would acquire Oldsmobile later in 1908, bringing GM’s holdings to two. The next year, he bought in Cadillac, Cartercar, Elmore, Ewing, Oakland, Reliance Motor Truck Company and Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, the latter two being the predecessors to GMC. The same year an attempt to purchase Ford Motor Company for $8 million was initiated. Henry Ford agreed, but the payment had to be under his terms – gold. When Durant failed to close the deal because hesitant bankers refused to loan him the capital he was booted from the cash-strapped company by the board of directors.

General Motors Building in Detroit. The GM headquarters from 1923 to 1996. It’s now known as Cadillac Place and is a National Historic Landmark.

In 1911, after being forced out of GM, Durant co-founded Chevrolet Motor Company with Louis Chevrolet. In 1916, after a stock buying campaign, Chevrolet came to own 54.5% of GM stock putting Durant back in the driver’s seat of the holding company he founded. He continued his original buying spree, this time going international. Vauxhall of England was bought by GM in 1925, 80 percent of Germany’s Opel in 1929, and Holden of Australia became a GM property in 1931. Today General Motors automobiles are built by Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, and Wuling.

Durant’s ride with GM lasted through 1920, when he was forced out again. He’d go on to found Durant Motors, which wouldn’t survive the Great Depression. He would eventually manage a chain of bowling alleys, but ultimately died living on a pension from old friends. Upon his death the Durant’s were forced to sell their art collection and file for bankruptcy.

Cover photo: William Durant with the first Chevrolet Model 490.

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