Flint Wagon Works-1882

The Flint Wagon Works was formed in 1882. It was purchased by Mr. Charles Crapser and was Flint's first incorporated company in 1884. Here they built wagons for all purposes such as travel, hauling and for family use. In 1900 the main building caught fire and burned to the ground, but was later rebuilt.(1) In 1903 the Wagon Works purchased the Buick Company and eventually sold it to General Motors. (2).

From Wagon to Automobile


William "Billy" Crapo Durant was born in Boston, Massachusetts, 8 December 1861, the grandson of a Michigan Governor, Henry H. Crapo [Governor 1864-8] his mother being from the New Bedford area. His father was addicted to hard liquor and stock speculation, a trait which may have been passed-on to his son, though the son was later a public advocate of prohibition enforcement. Henry Crapo had travelled west to the town of Flint, Michigan in order to set-up a timber yard and buy up timberland, having accrued a fortune from whaling. The Durant family followed, and young Billy attended the Flint Grammar School. He showed natural talent for selling medicine, insurance, cigars, real estate and bicycles.

One evening in 1884 Durant saw an attractive two-wheel horse-drawn cart on the streets of Flint, Michigan which had been invented as a cart with "4-wheel riding qualities", and the next night took a train to Coldwater, Michigan to where the carts were made and bought the manufacturing rights as the inventor was about to go out of business. Durant talked his friend Josiah Dallas Dort into putting up a $1,000, Durant parted with $50 of his own money and borrowed another $1,450 to cover the $2,500 cost of buying the business and setting up a shop in Flint to final-assemble and display the road carts. On September 28 1886, Durant and Dort entered into a partnership as the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY, which became basically a selling company. A Flint carriage-builder made the carts under contract for $8.00 and Durant and partner Dallas Dort sold them and delivered them for $12.50 each. On September 9 1893, the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY was incorporated with $150,000 capitalization, with its own assembly plant which bought-in parts from nearby suppliers. The company then changed its name to the DURANT-DORT CARRIAGE COMPANY on November 6 1895. In succeeding years Durant financed the company by subscribing a small minimum amount of stock himself, and talking stockholders and bankers into subscribing for the remainder.

By 1900, stockholders were sharing in a thriving business, producing 50,000 buggies, carts and carriages per year in Flint, fourteen other locations in the U.S. and "one in Canada" [though this could only have been established in 1905], some of which simply contracted their output to the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. This company was thus a major rival of the Flint Wagon Works run by their President, James H. Whiting, though both rival companies were also part of the Flint Board of Commerce.


The Buick company was acquired by James H. Whiting, born Warterbury, Connecticut 1848, died New York 1919, the President of the Flint Wagon Works [which can be traced back to 1882, but which was incorporated in 1884.]

On 11 September 1903, James H. Whiting, the Flint Wagon Works’s President announced that the wagon works directors had bought the Buick company in Detroit for the Flint Wagon Works and had production transferred to a one-storey brick building across the street from the F.W.W. plant in West Kearsley Street, Flint, Michigan with Whiting and other F.W.W. management running the company for a few years. Durant then acquired the Buick Motor Company from Whiting in November 1904 after the F.W.W. prompted Durant of the rival Durant-Dort Carriage Company to become interested in the automobile. In 1906, Durant and the Flint Wagon Works’ Directors incorporated the WHITING MOTOR CAR COMPANY to assemble the what was to become the new 4-cylinder Buick Model 10 at the former Buick plant in Jackson, Michigan as part of his plan to increase production, though this plan never proceeded and Durant moved the Buick production back to Flint.

The former Buick assembly plant just mentioned was where the 1905-6 Buicks were built. Durant had first built this plant in Jackson, Michigan, as an Imperial Wheel plant that had been a subsidiary of the Durant-Dort company for several years. It was available for use in 1905 for immediate production while Durant raised the money to build his Flint Buick plant north of the city at Hamilton’s Farm. It was the Buick’s Flint plant, located across the road from the F.W.W. that built the Buick engines from 1903 to 1908 or 1909. Arthur C. Mason was in charge of this engine plant, and then moved out to the new, larger engine plant when it was finished, located right next to the Buick assembly plant.

Durant then used the successful assembly and sales of the Buick 10, in addition to the 1907 Models F & G 2-cylinder Buicks, to finance his establishment of General Motors on 16th September 1908. The old Buick engine plant in Flint then was subsequently used by the G.M. owned Randolph Truck company, was then sold by G.M. to the Sterling Motor Company in 1912 and then to Arthur Mason, for his Mason Motor Company which moved from its leased premises at the Flint Wagon Wagon Works to this former Buick plant.

When the F.W.W. decided to assemble their own motor cars, they resuscitated the Whiting Company name, though the original company had been wound-up [perhaps the issued stock was traded for Buick stock]. The second WHITING MOTOR CAR COMPANY was never incorporated and became the car department of the F.W.W. instead. The new Whiting Company started production of the Whiting 20 at the F.W.W. plant in the Autumn/ Fall of 1909. This was then followed by the 1911 Models built until the end of June 1911, and then by an updated 1912 Model 22 from the Summer of 1911. The last of 250 or so cars were built in the Autumn of 1911, though the Whiting Motor Car Company were still advertising the Model 22 roadster by Christmas of 1911 and indeed the Little Company still had a few Whitings which they advertised for sale in mid April 1912, some or all of which may have been exported. The Flint Wagon Works itself was sold to Durant on October 12 1911 for a nominal $10 whilst paying-off the corporation’s debts, with settlement of outstanding litigation against them as well.

The Whiting 22 was "revamped and improved" with a new body to create the 1912 Little Four, assembly starting in January, though the first one actually completed was in mid-April 1912.

The Chevrolet Motor Company incorporation papers were signed on November 2 1911, with the place of business listed as Detroit, and papers were filed and recorded with the Secretary of State of Michigan the next day in Lansing, Michigan so November 3, 1911 became the incorporation date, though prior to then had presumably been "trading" as an unincorporated association or partnership, the Chevrolet Motor Company from March 1911, because Durant must have had a payroll and normal business expenses, in a room above the garage at 707 Grand River Avenue, Detroit, Michigan which was later re-numbered to 3939 Grand River Avenue and then moved over to the much larger 1145, West Grand Boulevard plant in August, being the leased former Corcoran Lamp Company building.

The first Chevrolet drawings were made by M. Etienne Planche on 15 March 1911 at a garage premises at number 707, later 3939 Grand River Avenue, Detroit. It appears that the small second story space above the garage was used for new engine design and construction only. The prototypal Chevrolets were in fact produced in what would today be called a "pilot plant" in the 1145, West Grand Boulevard Plant that was used between August 1911 and August 1913.

Durant tried to cover all aspects of the market, because the Little Six was introduced in January 1913 selling at under $1,400 alongside the first DETROIT-built Chevrolet Six which was to be called the Type C but at around 50% more expensive than the Little Four car. For the 1914 Model Year on June 1, 1913, the Type C sales price was increased in October 1913, the 1914 model becoming the Model C Classic. Further, up until then all Type C production had been at Detroit, but for 1914 Model Year from July 1913, production moved to the former Imperial Wheel plant on Hamilton Boulevard and St. John Street, Flint, which had been sold by way of an exchange of Chevrolet stock by the Durant-Dort Company in September 1912, this plant becoming Chevrolet # 2 Plant by mid-September 1913 to build all the Chevrolet six-cylinder cars. The Little plant thus became after the Chevrolet merger on June 10 1913 the Chevrolet #1 Plant at the same time.

During July and August of 1914, all the remaining parts were used-up and the Type C Classic production ended at Flint. Advertisements in August 1913 announced that the Little cars were now to be called "Chevrolets", though contrary to published information this did not include those sold by Republic which was just a sales company for the Little 4 & 6 cars from 1 August 1912 to 31 July 1913. There never was a Republic car (or truck) associated with Chevrolet.



Mr. Durant was probably very busy during the month of August asking his other old Flint friend and business acquaintances for money to invest in the new Chevrolet company. The management of the Flint Wagon Works, who had gotten Durant interested in the Buick seven years earlier, saw a golden opportunity in Durant’s ability to make his friends rich, offered the F.W.W. to Durant in exchange for stock in a reorganized company. This new company was to take over the F.W.W. plant and property, and Mr. Durant had to promise he would give his personal attention to the building up this new business. The formal proposition was made to Durant September 13, 1911, but it is reasonable to believe that Durant first had discussions with some of the officers of the F.W.W. several months before, concerning a takeover of the Wagon Works plant and turning the Whiting Runabout into a Chevrolet car.

I think a strong case can be made that it was Mr. Little, who by June 1911 became the champion of the "French Type" Little Four. He saw in the Whiting Twenty chassis the basis for the Little Four. All it would take was to clothe the old Whiting 90-inch w.b. chassis with a stylish torpedo cowl body, finish it in French gray paint with nickel trim parts, and equip it with electric lights, air starter, and L.H.D.

It just has to be more then just a strong coincident, that in August 1911 the Mason Motor Co. was established to occupy and build Chevrolet engines, in the very same plant that was already building the almost identical 1912 Whiting engine. The Mason operation was an expanded machine shop facility that allowed a doubling of engine and transmission production. Surely the plan, from the early summer of 1911 on by Mr. Durant and Mr. Little, was to build the new Chevrolet Little Four model in increasing volume production at this established Flint factory, that had already totally manufactured several thousand Whiting Runabouts during the last two years.

These F.W.W. negotiations leaked out in The Horseless Age, September 18, 1911. It was then reported the Chevrolet company "will build a high powered, high price car, and also a popular priced model…to be built in the wagon works’ plant" (see September 1986 REVIEW).

Photo Credit: Gustin, Lawrence R. "Picture History of Flint.""(3)
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