A boy born into a wealthy family, a multi-millionaire, and a reckless investor, many people would assume William Crapo Durant was much like the shrewd and cut throat entrepreneurs associated with his times. He was not. Instead Durant became a captain of industry thanks to his boundless enthusiasm and charm. He dominated meetings with intensity when dealing with top businessmen of his time, and in turn was noted as being a gentle and compassionate individual when interacting with everyday folk. His most notable business venture was without a doubt the creation of the largest industrial operation in the history of the world, General Motors. William Crapo Durant changed the face of Michigan starting in the late nineteenth century and his effects are still prevalent today. He is not remembered as well as other auto industry leaders such as Ford and Chrysler due to the fact the car that bore his name was unsuccessful, and that he died without enough funds to institute beneficial organizations such as Henry Ford Hospital or the Mott Foundation. Despite this Durant was one of the most influential businessmen of his time, and he remains historically significant in both Michigan and the nation’s history.
William Crapo Durant was born December 8th, 1861 to Rebecca Crapo, the daughter of Michigan Governor Henry Crapo, and William Clark Durant a man who met and began courting Rebecca as a clerk for a bank which she frequented. The couple had two children, Rebecca, who they called Rosa, and William, who they called Willie. The marriage unfortunately ended rather quickly due to Willie’s father being a drunk who did little to provide for the family. In a letter to Rebecca’s brother, her father wrote about her drunken husband saying, “His mind now seems to run into going into some saloon, where he thinks that he can make piles of money… He can’t think of any business worthy of his attention unless it has speculation, not to say gambling in it, or what is equally captivating to him- either whiskey, or beer.” (Madsen p. 21) It was the separation that motivated Rebecca to move her family in 1872 to Flint, Michigan which is where Willie was lucky enough to gain a positive father figure in his uncle. James Wilson was the man who took Rosa and Willie into his home when the family first arrived to Flint. He was a direct and positive male role model for Willie seeing as at the time he was not yet forty, but an established and respected figure in the city of Flint. He achieved success as a doctor and community activist participating in the Genesee County Agricultural Society and the local Presbyterian Church (Weisberger p. 10). Unlike his father, James, had a fantastic work ethic and greatly influenced the young Willie Durant.
Moving into Durant’s young adulthood, he obtained his first experiences with the business world as a salesman for a cigar producer in Flint. As a salesman he was urged to travel around the surrounding areas of Flint and see if any of the small towns wished to order any cigars for their stores. Instead, Durant disobeyed his boss and traveled straight to the larger city of Port Huron and asked the shops there if they wished to purchase cigars directly from the producer in Flint. He returned home with orders for 22,000 cigars and realized his skills in business (The Wizard of Flint). Durant went on to sell medical patents, lumber, and real estate in addition to becoming a partner in an insurance company. He took his early life earnings and searched for a business opportunity to invest in and make his fortunes. He found his opportunity in September of 1886 when he took a ride in a two wheeled road cart. Durant noticed the superiority of its ride due to an innovative suspension system and instantly looked to invest in its producers. The next morning Durant was in the factory of the Coldwater Road Cart Company talking to the company’s owner about buying a small interest in the company. Instead Durant found himself buying the...
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