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Walter P. Chrysler

Photograph of Walter Percy Chrysler, 1875-1940, seated at a  desk in his home, 1924.

Automaker.  Born: April 2, 1875, Wamego, Kansas.  Married: Della V. Forker, of Ellis, Kansas, June 1901 (died 1938).  Died: August 18, 1940 Great Neck, N.Y.

Walter Percy Chrysler was born April 2, 1875, in Wamego, Kansas, to Henry and Anna Maria (Breymann) Chrysler. The family soon moved to Ellis, where Chrysler grew up. His father was an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, and Chrysler gained an appreciation and understanding of engines. His first job was delivering groceries. He worked as a janitor in the Union Pacific shops for a dollar a day. He worked his way up to mechanic's apprentice, and eventually works manager for the American Locomotive Company. Chrysler married Della Viola Forker on June 6, 1901.

Chrysler was living in Oelwein, Iowa, in 1908 when he attended an automobile show in Chicago. He did not own a car but was curious to learn how it worked. There he bought a locomobile for $5,000 and had the car shipped home. Buick Motor Company hired him in 1912 as the works manager in charge of production at its Flint, Michigan, plant. Chrysler helped Buick increase its daily production from 45 cars a day to 600.

In 1916 Chrysler took the helm at Buick, with the then unheard of salary of $10,000 a month plus a $500,000 bonus at the end of the year. His initial salary at Buick was $6,000 a year; when he left the company in 1919 he was one of the richest men in America. He attempted to turn around the Willys-Overland Motor Company, which he left in 1921. He acquired controlling interest in Maxwell Motor Company and applied his philosophies for reorganizing and improving production.

Image of an El Dorado (Kan.) Times advertisement for a Chrysler '50' sedan, Dec. 4, 1926Chrysler launched his own auto company June 6, 1925, and established the Plymouth and DeSoto brands. The company absorbed Maxwell Motors and became the third largest automaker in the United States, thriving during the boom of the 1920s. In 1928 Chrysler acquired the Dodge Brothers Company. He acquired an estate on Long Island and built the distinctive Chrysler Building in New York City, the world’s tallest skyscraper at the time. Time named him 1929 Man of the Year.

Chrysler went into semi-retirement in 1935, remaining as chairman of the board of directors until his death August 18, 1940, in Great Neck, New York. His boyhood home still stands in Ellis.

View primary sources related to Walter Chrysler in Kansas Memory.

Entry: Chrysler, Walter P.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: April 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.