Walter Chrysler was one heck of a guy. Anyone who worked for him would tell you this. No job was below him or too much for him, he could work on anything mechanical as well as having a head for finance and a way of managing people. Born in 1875 in Wamego, Chrysler’s family moved for his father job first to Brookfield and then when he was three to Ellis.
Chrysler’s father was a mechanic and machinist for the Union Pacific and when they moved to Ellis they lived in a small adobe house owned by the UP but later they built their own home, which boasted running water and a bathtub. Ellis at the time was an “end of the rail city”, and he was familiar with buffalo, Indians and was a champion marbles player. Chrysler’s mother spoke German to her children and ruled the house with an iron hand, all the while feeding anyone who showed up at the back door.
Chrysler found his first success as an entrepreneur selling calling cards to the women in town while in his teens. Not an ideal student, there is no record of his graduating from high school (p. 53) although for many years he would take engineering courses through the International Correspondence Schools in Scranton, Pennsylvania and he was an avid reader of Scientific American—frequently writing in to their question and answer column (p.62). Instead of school, Chrylser began working for the Union Pacific, first as a sweeper (janitor) and then working his way up. In those days to work as a mechanist or a mechanic you had to provide your own tools, Chrysler was too poor to buy tools so he made his own—theses he kept and for years they were on display at the Chrysler Building (now they are in the Museum).
Chryler ‘s high school sweetheart was Della Forker. Della’s family was one of the wealthiest in Ellis, her father shipped cattle to the eastern markets and raised throughbred horses. (p 60) He knew that he would have to leave Ellis to find success enough to ask for Della hand in marriage so he jumped at chances to advance and to move. When he had a acquired enough money to buy a new suit and derby hat and to have money enough for expenses to make it to the next payday, he and Della were married. (p. 79)
Working his way up the ranks, including foreman, superintendent, division master mechanic and general master mechanic, Chrysler worked for the Union Pacific, Forth Worth and Denver , and Chicago’s Great Wester railroads. Ending his railroading career as the works manager of the Allegheny locomotive erecting shops for the American Locomotive Company (Alco). His success at turning Alco around attracted the attention of James Storrow, one of Alco’s directors who introduced him to Charles Nash the president of Buick Motors. Buick was floundering and Chrysler had a reputation for efficiency and mechanical know how took over as production chief at Buick.
Chrysler was not unfamiliar with cars. In 1908, he bought a Locomobile at an auto show in Chicago, for $5,000, using all of he and Della’s savings as well as taking out a loan. The first few months he owned the car he did not drive it but took it apart and worked on it, figuring it out before he would attempt to drive it. Chrylser increased production of Buicks from 45 to 500 a day and in 1916 he was put in charge of Buick. Chrysler stayed at Buick until 1919 then went onto Willy-Overland Motor and then to Maxwell Motor before in 1925 launching the Chrysler Motor Company.
Chrysler Motors became known for the inexpensive but sporty Plymouth and DeSota sedans. In 1928, when Chrysler bought the floundering Dodge Brothers Company it became the third largest car manufacturer in the world.