MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 06.03.2015

The late Mr. Walter P. Chrysler was one of the world’s talented and leading pioneers in our automotive history. A great workman and strong influence in the development of our automotive heritage. His creative style and hard work will be remembered for generations to come.

Walter Percy Chrysler was born in Wamego, Kansas on April 2, 1875. In 1878, his family moved to Ellis, Kansas where Mr. Chrysler received his primary and secondary education and began his career.

file 20150603123113 Walter ChryslerWalter P. Chrysler

Starting as a locomotive mechanic, W.P. Chrysler would have never guessed his career path would lead to founding the Chrysler Corporation. As a young apprentice, not only was Chrysler content to do the jobs assigned to him, but he was also eager to build and construct whatever he could put his hands on. His love for his mechanical experiences was taught by his late father.

In 1908, Mr. Chrysler took upon a great interest in automobiles at the Chicago Auto-Show. It was there that he fell in love with a Loco-mobile touring car that was on display for the viewing public. He later would purchase a vehicle for $700 dollars cash; not to drive it, but to take it apart, study it, and then later put it back together.

Continuing his career in manufacturing and mechanical engineering, Mr. Chrysler had joined Buick Motor Company during the early days (1911-1919) and by 1920 became acting president. He later moved to the Willy's- Overland Company helping to bring back a solid base for manufacturing.

During the 1920's, Walter P. Chrysler took on the reorganization of the Maxwell Motor Company; which was experiencing a great deal of uncertainty in the automotive industry (1904-1924). As a result of Chrysler’s take over of the company, Chalmers which had been a subsidiary of Maxwell in the reorganization, lost $1 million dollars and production of the Chalmers automobile was discontinued in 1923 with the last Chalmers automobile being sold at $1,495 dollars to the buying public. On June 6, 1925 the Chrysler Corporation was actually formed succeeding the Maxwell Motor Car company and Walter P. Chrysler became president.

file 2015060312320 Chrysler toolboxWalter P Chrysler Toolbox

Throughout his career Mr. Chrysler was very proud of his famed toolbox as a skilled tradesman. He often found that men borrowed tools but would never bring them back. Understanding the importance of W.P. Chrysler’s tools, a close friend built him a tool chest with W. P. Chrysler stenciled across the front. Mr. Chrysler once said “I sent 10 cents to the magazine for a little bottle of asphalt paint and almost from the day it came, all my tools were branded W.P. C. in acid”. Today the toolbox is still in the possession of the Chrysler Corporation and was a part of the past exhibit at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.

file 20150603123308 First Chrylser AutomobileWalter P Chrysler and the First Chrysler Automobile

History was made again within the automotive industry when Walter P. Chrysler prepared to introduce the first Chrysler branded model: the 1924 Chrysler Six. With the corporation's swift entrance into the automotive competition, the first running Chrysler prototype was ready on July 31, 1923, less than 60 days after the design had been approved.

Chrysler had planned to show the first Chrysler Six model at the January 1925 New York automobile show; however, the vehicle had no production record which created a problem for viewing. Later, Mr. Chrysler requested that his sales manager Mr. Joseph Field engage the entire lobby of the Commodore hotel for a showing of the model, resulting in a largely successful introduction.

The year 1928 was also a significant period for Walter P. Chrysler and automotive history. It was in this year that the Chrysler Corporation began its first major expansion by purchasing the properties and business of the Dodge Brothers Motor Company. In July of the same year, Amelia Earhart was chosen to announce the new Plymouth automobile. The Plymouth name plate symbolized endurance, strength, and was highly appreciated by Chrysler consumers.

In Chicago, 30,000 spectators jammed the Chicago coliseum to catch a glimpse of the latest Chrysler product. During the 1930s, Walter P. Chrysler once again demonstrated leadership in the industry by constructing the Chrysler building in New York in 1930. With 77 stories and a height of 1,046 feet, it was the tallest structure in the world at that time. In 1934, Mr. Walter P. Chrysler turned the presidency of the Chrysler Corporation over to K.T. Keller but remained as chairman until his untimely death. Mr. Walter P. Chrysler passed away on August 18, 1940.

file 20150603123355 Sedan BroughamChrysler Sedan and Brougham

In his lifetime, many words were written about Walter P. Chrysler, but probably no one statement better described his qualifications for greatness than a tribute made after his death by men who had allied their interests with his. This story is dedicated to the life and influence of Walter P. Chrysler.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Crellin Jack. “24 Dream Car Built Chrysler Empire”The Detroit News Sunday January 5, 1964. Time News Magazine. “A Man of The Year” January 7, 1929. The Boy-Hood Home of Walter P. Chrysler founder of Chrysler Corporation on Highway 40, Ellis Kansas.)

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