William C. Durant was born in Boston, Mass., on Dec. 8, 1861. He grew up in Flint, Mich., where he became a leading carriage manufacturer. In 1886 he organized the Durant-Dort Company and helped to make Flint the carriage capital of the nation.
Durant acquired control of the Buick Motor Car Company in 1904 and revived it; by 1908 Buick was one of the four leading automobile companies. Durant had a vision of the boundless possibilities of the automobile, particularly the moderate-priced car, and attempted to capitalize on these possibilities by establishing a large-scale enterprise based on volume production. He intended that his company would be well financed, market a variety of automobiles, and produce many of its own parts.
After an attempt to buy Ford Motor Company in 1907 failed because Henry Ford wanted to be paid in cash, Durant established the General Motors Company the next year. He began with the Buick and added Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Oakland (Pontiac), and other lesser companies. Durant overextended himself, and by 1910 General Motors needed the intervention of a bankers' syndicate to lift the burden of debt. Durant returned to the automobile business in 1911 with the Chevrolet car. In 1916, with the backing of the Du Pont family, he recovered control of General Motors.
Durant was a pioneer in the automotive industry, and his most notable creation, General Motors, has dominated the automobile market since. Some of his chance ideas, such as the entry of General Motors into the manufacture of refrigerators, were highly successful. However, Durant never succeeded in organizing and administrative structure adequate for the giant enterprise he founded, and the task of converting General Motors into an enduring monument was left to his successors.
Today, based on global sales, General Motors is routinely among the world's largest automakers. Headquartered at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, GM employs approximately 180,000 people around the world. In 2009, General Motors sold 6.5 million cars and trucks globally; in 2010, it sold 8.39 million. As of 2019, General Motors is ranked #13 on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.
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