Cover image for Chrysler : the life and times of an automotive genius
Chrysler : the life and times of an automotive genius
Curcio, Vincent.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiv, 699 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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HD9710.U52 C453 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Here is a richly detailed account of one of the most important men in American automotive history, based on full access to both Chrysler Corporation and Chrysler family historical records.
Chrysler emerges as a man who loved machines, an accomplished mechanic who also had highly developed managerial skills derived from half a lifetime on the railroads, a man whose success came from his deep understanding of engineering and his total commitment to the quality of his vehicles. Vincent Curcio traces Chrysler's rise from a locomotive wiper in a Kansas roundhouse to the head of the Buick Division of General Motors, to his rescue of the Maxwell-Chalmers car company, which led to the successful development of the 1924 Chrysler--the world's first modern car--and the formation of Chrysler Corporation in 1925. Chrysler was quite different from the other auto giants--a colorful and expansive man, deeply involved in the design of his cars, a maverick in establishing his headquarters in New York City, in the world's most famous art deco structure, the fabled Chrysler Building, which he built and helped to design. Because of his emphasis on quality at popular prices, the company weathered the Great Depression with flying colors--losing money only in the rock-bottom year of 1932--and despite the market fiasco of the Chrysler Airflow (which was years ahead of its time), the company grew and remained profitable right up to Chrysler's death in 1940.
The definitive portrait, Walter P. Chrysler is must reading for all car enthusiasts and for everyone interested in the story of a giant of industry.

Author Notes

Vincent Curcio, a veteran theatrical manager-producer, is the author of Suicide Blonde, a biography of Gloria Grahame. A long-time car enthusiast, he lives in Union City, New Jersey.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The lives of auto magnates William C. Durant, founder of General Motors, and Henry Ford have been well chronicled, but the remaining founding partner of the Big Three automaking triumvirate is generally known only by name and by the skyscraper he built in New York. Aside from his own brief memoir, Life of an American Workman (1937), no full-length biography of Chrysler has been written. In honor of Chrysler Corporation's seventy-fifth anniversary, Curcio offers this tribute to William Percy Chrysler. Curcio's previous biographical effort was Suicide Blonde (1989), a portrait of actress Gloria Grahame. With full access to Chrysler company records and family archives, he meticulously details the events in Chrysler's life as a skillful railroad mechanic, automobile designer and manufacturer, and tycoon. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

From humble beginnings as a Kansas railroad-shop apprentice wiping down locomotives for 5Ù cents an hour, Walter Chrysler (1875-1940) rose to become a railroad master mechanic and foreman, then a leading auto manufacturer and industrial mogul. Brashly confident, convinced of America's limitless potential for economic growth, Chrysler, "the quintessence of American business in the 1920s," built Manhattan's Chrysler BuildingÄart deco emblem of modernism and progressÄwhose spire went up just one month before the 1929 stock market crash. This dynamic biography brings a surprisingly neglected giant out of the shadows. Chrysler, self-educated, self-made son of a German immigrant, is not nearly as well known as Henry Ford, even though he expanded Detroit's Big Two (GM and Ford) into the Big Three, when Chrysler Corporation bought out Dodge in 1928. (His legacy lives on in Daimler-Chrysler, formed in 1998.) Two contrasting personalities emerge: one is the far-sighted, risk-taking industrialist, perhaps the last great individualist of automaking, a man who seemed genuinely concerned about his employees, a caring father of four with a rare gift for managing men, plants and machinery. The other is the hard-drinking, big-eating, tuba-playing bon vivant, "probably... a functioning alcoholic," who embarrassed his family and nearly wrecked his marriage thanks to his affair with showgirl Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Curcio never fully reconciles these two sides of his elusive subject, but his robust, engaging portrait is chock-full of lore from the classic automobile era, as it sets the Chrysler saga against the backdrop of the Roaring 20s, the Depression and the labor unrest of the 1930s. 50 photos. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Walter P. Chrysler (1875-1940) is the subject of this splendid new biography by Curcio (Suicide Blonde). Although he established the mighty Chrysler Corporation (now DaimlerChrysler), there was much more to Chrysler's life. From hardscrabble beginnings as a railroad machinist, he rose with hard work through the ranks to head a locomotive factory. When Chrysler was introduced to his first automobile, it was love at first sight, and he soon found his way to Detroit and the fledgling automobile industry. He personally supervised the design of the first Chrysler automobile in 1924, and its quick success led, in part, to the founding of the Chrysler Corporation the following year. Chrysler loved a challengeDwhether it was designing a new car, saving a company from bankruptcy, or creating a new building that would change the New York skyline. There were personal setbacks, especially during the Great Depression, but he persevered. While some of the anecdotes here seem irrelevant and a few of the design chronicles are at times longwinded, the book has been rigorously researched and reads well. Highly recommended for larger public libraries and transportation collections.DRichard Drezen, Washington Post News Research (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Walter Chrysler not only lived through a remarkable era of economic and social change, but he was also a significant participant in the transformation of US society and the emergence of national economy. Beginning with the railroad industry in the late 19th century through the founding and development of the automobile industry in the first third of 20th century, he was prominently occupied with the expansion of a modern, industrial America. In this thorough and sympathetic biography, Curcio examines the context and actions of one of the US's most prominent industrialists. He considers how Chrysler, along with others such as Henry Ford, Charles Nash, David Buick, and the Dodge brothers, had a direct and enduring impact on the structure of a crucial industry and on the scale and structure of the American economy. By making extensive use of both company and family records, the author provides an intimate view of the career, times, achievements, and influence of the man and the company he formed. The book provides useful background information about the changing conditions of such topics as labor markets, marketing strategies, and industrial organization, and offers an engaging and informative view of an era of historic transition. Recommended for general and undergraduate readers. T. E. Sullivan; Towson University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. xi
Part I The Early Years
1 The Land from Which Walter Chrysler Sprangp. 3
2 The Background of the Chrysler Familyp. 7
3 Kansas, the Plains Indians, the Stage Coach, and the Coming of the Railroadp. 16
4 The Birth of Walter Chrysler; How Financial Corruption Built the Railroads: What Texas Cattle Meant to Kansasp. 26
5 Ellis, Kansas: The Cradle of Walter Chrysler's Lifep. 37
6 Boyhood in Ellisp. 44
7 Going to Work at the Union Pacific Roundhousep. 55
8 Working on the Railroadp. 68
9 Getting Married, and the First Big Breakp. 77
10 Putting a Lid on It, and the Go-Ahead Signalp. 83
11 Trinidad: The First Major Responsibilityp. 86
12 Childress: Springboard to the Futurep. 99
13 Oelwein, Iowa: Superintendent of Motive Power and the First Carp. 104
14 The First Manufacturing Job: ALCOp. 117
Part II The Automobile and the Assembly Line
15 The Early History of the Automobilep. 127
16 The Development of Mass Productionp. 178
Part III Greatness
17 Chrysler at Buickp. 215
18 Chrysler at Willysp. 261
19 Putting Together the First Chrysler Carp. 281
20 The Significance of the First Chrysler Carp. 307
21 Maxwell Becomes the Chrysler Corporationp. 323
22 Art and Color Take Over the Car Businessp. 336
23 Chrysler Makes it the Big Threep. 361
24 The Chrysler Buildingp. 400
25 1929: The Crashp. 445
26 The Great Depression Hits the Automobile Industryp. 466
27 Streamlining and the Airflow Carp. 518
28 Labor and the Strike of 1937p. 558
29 How He Lived: Summing Upp. 603
Acknowledgmentsp. 667
Sourcesp. 671
Indexp. 691