Friday, November 30, 2012

Flint, MI

* Photos and information for this article provided by
Google Images and Wikipedia.


by Felicity Blaze Noodleman

Naturally, as we draw closer to the holidays I am thinking of my childhood and the happy times I spent growing up in my home town of Flint, MI.  That's when it hit me!  This would make a great story since many people don't know what happened there in Flint so long ago.

Once upon a time when the country was young a fur trader named Joseph Smith established a trading post near the beautiful Flint river of Michigan in 1819.  Only a few years earlier the Michigan territory had been conceded to the United States from France in the war of 1812.  Smith himself was born in Quebec and traded with the local Indians, the Ojibwas and and with hunters and trappers. 
Jacob Smith:  First white settler in Flint, MI and the head
stone marking his resting place. 


This area was at that time the west.  The frontier.  The unexplored regions which extended beyond the newly formed United States.  The wilderness was pristine and offered a wealth of resources.  It was rich and fertile awaiting those who could manage and reap the bounty which it had to offer.  This is the story of my home town.  This is where I was born and grew up.


Joseph Smith was a frontiersman who would form an essential link between the Ojibwas Indian Tribes and the other Indian nations in the area and the United States government.  His wife was Chippewa Indian.  Fluent in many languages both European and Indian, he was a natural ambassador who would negotiate many treaties for the new and growing territory and was highly instrumental  in the settlement and civilization of the frontier territory in this area of  Michigan.    As a fur trader his small frontier business would grow and become an essential outpost on the road between the established communities of Detroit and Saginaw, MI.


Who can say how a settlement like this grows.  After all trading itself is diversified and comprises itself from whatever resources may present themselves.   Furs, farming produce, livestock, manufactured goods from both native Americans and all points east and Europe.  All these goods changing hands and eventually supporting new incoming settlers.  The backbone of civilization.  All the essential trades and crafts – a Black Smith, a Grist Miller, a stone Mason, Loggers and Lumber Jacks.  Agriculture grew as and farms of all kinds – Vegetable, Dairy, Poultry, Hog and Orchards came to supply the region with all the foods and necessities needed for the community to grow and prosper. 
The Carpo Lumber Mill 1872


The future of this frontier settlement would be carved out of the vast forested region of the area and would steadily grow adding all of the essential settlers and tradesmen which comprise a community and are the foundation which attracts and fuels further growth and prosperity.  Flint became the county seat of the region and took its name, Genesee, from an area of New York.  Michigan became the 26th. state in the Union in 1837 and Flint became a city in 1855.   By records in the 1860 census the small town reported a population of 22,498.


All of this was not so unusual.  After all, thousands of American communities began in the same way.  What was unusual were some of the builders and manufactures now coming into Flint.  A Lumber Mill was opened some time prior to 1872 and attracted carpenters and wood wrights of all types.  The Flint Road Cart Company was one of the most successful and would eventually become the Durant – Dort Carriage Company.  Flint came to be known as “Vehicle City”.  Building horse drawn carts, wagons and fine carriages of all types and kinds, Durant – Dort would secure many thousands of orders for their high quality products selling them throughout the country and became the biggest builders in the world.  Flint was well on its way to becoming a highly prospers and productive city.

The Dort - Durant Carriage Company - Flint, MI.  It is now 
preserved as a national historical monument.

Early 1900's View of Saginaw St., the main city thoroughfare.
Flint was laying claim to their destiny as the worlds largest
vehicle manufactures.  This photo seems to predate
the automobile as no cars are visible.
Now here is where the story becomes of national and global interest.  Would you believe this small transportation company eventually became the world’s largest automobile manufacturer?  These were the small and humble beginnings of General Motors or simply GM.


Flint MI; the home of General Motors and it's two flag ship brands.  Durant was
highly successful at corporate organization and was a very talented salesman. 
William Carpo Durant, Chairman of GM  1904 - 1920.
He had a genius for establishing large corporations.  First with Durant-Dort Carriage, Then GM and Chevrolet Motors, Durant Motors & United Motors which became AC Delco and was later purchased by GM.  His weak point in business was overextending his acquisitions.  He was financially wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929 and never recovered again. 
William Carpo Durant first made his fortune in the Durant - Dort Carriage Company.  Foreseeing the demise of horse drawn vehicles Durant set his sights on diversifying into the newly emerging automotive industry.  Durant's first step was to purchase the Buick motor car company established in 1899 (Buick Auto Vim and Power Company) of Detroit, MI in 1904. 

 Louis Chevrolet and 1900 Buick
The company was moved to Flint, MI and the first Buick sold was manufactured there.  Buick is the oldest American brand still in existence and is also the oldest auto brand in the world.  To promote his newly acquired business he hired a young racing driver named Louis Chevrolet to to exhibit the Buick at racing events and rallies.
GM automotive pioneers David Dunbar Buick (left)
and Louis Chevrolet (right)
Chevrolet and Durant would partner together building an automobile designed on Chevrolet's 6 cylinder engine concept and the company was organized in 1911.  By 1917 Chevrolet was a profitable auto company.  The partnership between Louis Chevrolet and William Durant was dissolved leaving Durant in control of the company who consolidated Chevrolet into the General Motors.

 1911 Louis Chevrolet with his newly designed Prototype
"Chevrolet" automobile.  It went into production in 1912.
William C. Durant's fortunes in the automotive Industry were up and down; an in and out affair.  He lost control of Buick early on but his success with Chevrolet allowed him to repurchase the company and establish General Motors.  Chevrolet's were being built in many areas of the country; New York City; Tarrytown, NY;  Flint, MI;  Toledo, OH;  St Louis, MO;  Oakland, CA; Fort Worth, TX and Oshowa, Ontario Canada.  In these early days of the automotive industry there were literally dozens of auto builders throughout the east and mid western US.  Many would consolidate with other auto makers, be bought out by the big 3 auto company's and American Motors or simply close up shop and go out of business.
Durant knew from experience with his carriage business that the American tastes regarding their transportation were varied and could be highly discerning.  Henry Ford was building one type of automobile for the masses and was known to say; "anybody could buy a Ford in any color, as long as it was black".  Durant's General Motors Corporation brands would cater to all Americans on many levels.
Durant would continue to add to the GM brands by purchasing the Oldsmobile company in 1908; the Cadillac & Pontiac along with company's which would comprise GMC trucks in 1909. GM would also acquire the Fisher Body company which had already been making parts for GM in 1919.  Durant would continue to make other acquisitions for GM working with Wall St. and other investors such as the DuPont company. 
Durant left GM in 1920 after losing control to the DuPont interests after one of the most dramatic proxy fights in Wall St. history. He would again built a new automotive company manufacturing automobiles under his own name, the "Durant",  and forming United Motors which would eventually become AC-Delco in Flint, MI.  AC would be bought by General Motors after it's founders death in 1927.  Durant was finally over come with debt and wiped out by the collapse of the stock market in 1929 and the great depression.
Early photo of Buick factory in Flint - probably sometime
in the 1920's.
Buick factory complex 1985
Interior view of Chevrolet Ave. inside Chevy's complex
about the early to mid 1930's
Chevrolet factory's in Flint about 1926.  My grandfather worked and retired
here.  This photo is largely as I remember it.
The AC Delco plant in Flint MI manufactured many parts
for General Motors automobiles.  My Grandmother started
working here during WWII.
Alfred P. Sloan Chairman of GM 1937-1956
Alfred P. Sloan is the executive who succeeded Durant at GM and who is credited for  building GM into the company we know today.  He was one of the first American executive to be college educated having graduated from MIT.  He was also affiliated with the GM family for most of his career, through his company, Hyatt Roller Bearing working closely with Durant during the United Motors years.  Hyatt was eventually purchased by GM and Sloan moved up in the organization  becoming an executive and VP at GM.
Sloan helped lead (and grow) GM from the 1920s through the 1950s—decades when concepts such as the annual model change, brand architecture, industrial design, automotive design (styling), and planned obsolescence transformed the industry, and when the industry changed lifestyles and the built environment in America and throughout the world. 
Sloan is remembered for being a rational, shrewd, and very successful manager, who led GM to become the largest corporation on earth, a position it held for many years after his death. His rationality and shrewdness are also remembered by his critics as extending even to cold, plutocratic detachment or avarice.  Sloan and the management of GM in the 1930s and early 1940s—the time of the Great Depression, German re-armament, fascism, appeasement, and World War II—are part of a larger narrative about the complex nature of multinational corporations.
Since Alfred Sloan's departure from General Motors many changes have taken place but the company seems to still follow his philosophy's.  He left a huge imprint on GM and my hometown.  Although GM was only headquartered in Flint for a short time and eventually moved to Detroit,  the profits from Buick and Chevrolet were the investment capitol which allowed GM to grow and become what it is today.
The story of my home town can not be told without talking about GM.  There are many other GM manufacturing facilities in the Flint and surrounding areas.  Although Buick has left the Flint area and has moved to China along with Chevrolet automotive manufacturing facilities for passenger cars, Flint is still home to other GM manufacturing.  
Hope you have enjoyed this little story.  It has many dynamics and I am so glad to have Google and Wikipedia to guide us as we look back into the past to learn about one most interesting periods of American business.  I've learned and seen much that even I didn't know about these chapters in my home town's history.  Thanks for being with the Noodleman Group.

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