Year
1940

Walter P. Chrysler dies

Walter Percy Chrysler, the founder of the American automotive corporation that bears his name, dies on this day in 1940 at his estate in Great Neck, New York, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 65 years old.

Born in 1875 in Kansas, Chrysler was the son of a locomotive engineer; he began working himself when he was 17, earning seven cents an hour as an apprentice in a railroad machine shop. He worked his way up quickly, becoming a plant manager for the American Locomotive Company by the time he was 33 years old. In the early years of the automobile, Chrysler became fascinated: At a 1905 automobile show in Chicago, he borrowed $5,000 to purchase his own car, taking it apart and putting it back together again before taking a single ride. In 1911, Chrysler accepted a job as a manager at the Buick Motor Company at half his former salary. Within five years, he rose to become the company’s president, and to make Buick into the strongest unit of William C. Durant’s General Motors (GM).

Durant and Chrysler clashed over policy, however, and Chrysler left GM in 1920 to work with the Willys-Overland Company and with Maxwell Motors Company. A car designed by Chrysler and featuring a high-compression engine sold $50 million worth in its first year replaced the existing Maxwell car. In 1925, he emerged as president of the Chrysler Corporation, consisting of the former Maxwell and Chalmers car companies. After acquiring Dodge in 1928 and introducing the Plymouth that same year, the Chrysler Corporation would go on to become one of the Big Three of American automakers, alongside Ford and GM.

Aside from automobiles, Chrysler was chiefly known for financing the 77-story Art Deco skyscraper in midtown Manhattan (at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street) that bears his name. To complete the distinctive ornamentation around the spire of the building, its architects used elements from Chrysler’s automobiles, including radiator caps, hubcaps and stainless steel that evoked the chrome shine on a car. When it was completed in 1930, the Chrysler building was the tallest building in the world and the first manmade structure to top 1,000 feet. Surpassed by the Empire State Building a year later, the building remains one of New York City’s most distinctive skyscrapers. 

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Meredith graduates from Ole Miss

James Meredith, the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, graduates with a degree in political science. His enrollment in the university a year earlier was met with deadly riots, and he subsequently attended class under heavily armed guard.Born on June ...read more

Genghis Khan dies

Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader who forged an empire stretching from the east coast of China west to the Aral Sea, dies in camp during a campaign against the Chinese kingdom of Xi Xia. The great Khan, who was over 60 and in failing health, may have succumbed to injuries incurred ...read more

Woman suffrage amendment ratified

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, is ratified by Tennessee, giving it the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to make it the law of the land. The amendment was the culmination of more than 70 years of struggle by woman ...read more

Roanoke Colony deserted

John White, the governor of the Roanoke Island colony in present-day North Carolina, returns from a supply-trip to England to find the settlement deserted. White and his men found no trace of the 100 or so colonists he left behind, and there was no sign of violence. Among the ...read more

Hitler suspends euthanasia program

On this day in 1941, Adolf Hitler orders that the systematic murder of the mentally ill and handicapped be brought to an end because of protests within Germany.In 1939, Dr. Viktor Brack, head of Hitler’s Euthanasia Department, oversaw the creation of the T.4 program, which began ...read more

Marines launch Operation Starlite

After a deserter from the First Vietcong Regiment had revealed that an attack was imminent against the U.S. base at Chu Lai, the Marines launch Operation Starlite in the Van Tuong peninsula in Quang Ngai Province.In this, the first major U.S. ground battle of the Vietnam War, ...read more

Communists launch new offensive

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launch a limited offensive in the south with 19 separate attacks throughout South Vietnam. In the heaviest fighting in three months, Communist troops attacked key positions along the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh and Binh Long provinces, ...read more

Australians defeat VC at Long Tan

The First Australian Task Force (ATF) inflicts a major defeat on Viet Cong forces in Phuoc Tuy Province. Australia had first sent troops to Vietnam in 1962 and eventually expanded its commitment in response to President Lyndon Johnson’s call for “Free World Military Forces” to ...read more

Larry Bird hangs it up

On August 18, 1992, celebrated Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird retires.Bird was a high school basketball star in his native Indiana. After graduation, he received a scholarship to play for legendary coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University, one of the finest teams in the ...read more

Cyrus Skinner released from San Quentin

Cyrus Skinner, who would later be hanged by the Montana vigilantes, ends his first stay in the California state prison at San Quentin.Skinner was typical of the thieves and killers who terrorized the gold fields of Montana in the early 1860s. Born in Ohio in 1829, Skinner began ...read more

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is published

On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita is published in the U.S.The novel, about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl, had been rejected by four publishers before G.P. Putnam’s Sons accepted it. The novel became a bestseller that allowed Nabokov to ...read more

Director Roman Polanski born

On this day in 1933, Roman Polanski, the director of such films as Rosemary’s Baby,Chinatown and The Pianist, is born Rajmund Roman Liebling in Paris, France. As a movie director, Polanski has received numerous honors, including an Academy Award; his personal life, however, has ...read more