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Thursday, September 18, 2014

September 16: William Durant founded General Motors on this date in 1908




William Crapo Durant had built a successful carriage business from nothing; the Durant-Dort factories of Flint, Mich., offered a range of models from cheap to luxurious, and built their own parts at a string of plants to control supply and quality.

 So when the demand for automobiles blossomed at the turn of the 20th century, Durant already had a strategy in mind for conquering the market, staring with the Buick brand that he had made the country's best-seller.

On this date in 1908, Durant spent $2,000 to incorporate General Motors in Hudson County, N.J., as a way to raise money through various stock swaps; within a couple of weeks, Durant had raised $12 million, which he used to buy independent automakers such as Buick, Oldsmobile and Oakland, accumulating 17 by 1910.

 (The board turned down his bid to Henry Ford, who was willing to sell Ford but wanted cash up front.) Wall Street was Durant's gambling hall, and while his victories allowed Durant to assemble an empire, the house always wins: Durant was eventually fired by GM's bankers, came back, was fired again and lost his fortune in the 1929 crash.

In his post-GM years, Durant tried every business he could think of, including bowling alleys, before dying broke in 1947. Footage of Durant himself is rare, but here's an example of pop culture's fascination with the car around the time of GM's creation — the 1909 recording of Ada Jones singing Irving Berlin's warning to young women about men with motorcars.