Walter Chrysler, the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, one of America’s Big Three automakers, is featured on the cover of Timemagazine as its Man of the Year. In 1928, under Walter Chrysler’s leadership, his company had acquired the Dodge Brothers Company, thereby becoming the world’s third-largest automaker. Also that year, Chrysler launched the low-priced Plymouth line and the mid-priced DeSoto brand. Additionally, Walter Chrysler had bankrolled construction of the Chrysler Building in New York City. When it was completed two years later, in 1930, the 77-story art-deco skyscraper was the world’s tallest building.
Walter Percy Chrysler was born on April 2, 1875, in Wamego, Kansas. The son of a railroad engineer, Chrysler worked his way up in the railroad industry, from sweeper to machinist to plant manager of American Locomotive Company, before making his mark on the auto industry. He worked as a plant manager for General Motors’ Buick division, and eventually become head of Buick. In the early 1920s, he reorganized and saved the Willys-Overland company. He then went on to rescue the Maxwell-Chalmers Company, which in 1924 launched the Chrysler Six, a mid-priced car that would help earn the Chrysler brand a reputation for performance and advanced engineering. In 1925, Maxwell-Chalmers was renamed the Chrysler Corporation. Between 1925 and 1940, Chrysler built 8 million cars and trucks and had 80,000 employees at its peak, according to “Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius” by Vincent Curcio.
Walter Chrysler became a wealthy, powerful business mogul with a reputation for working hard and playing hard. One of the few flops of his career was the 1934 Airflow car, which featured an innovative design and engineering but experienced production problems and lost money. Chrysler retired as president of his company in 1935 but kept his title of chairman and CEO. After suffering a stroke, he died on August 18, 1940, at the age of 65.
By the end of the 20th century, the Chrysler Corporation had undergone significant changes. In 1998, German automaker Daimler-Benz acquired Chrysler for $36 billion, to create DaimlerChrysler AG. In 2007, Daimler sold an 80 percent controlling interest in Chrysler to private-equity firm Cerberus for $7.4 billion. In April 2009, Chrysler, which along with the rest of the auto industry had been hard hit by the global economic crisis of 2008, filed for bankruptcy protection and announced it would enter a partnership with Italian automaker Fiat.