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A brief history of General Motors

Courtesy of Tim Iacono at The Mess That Greenspan Made

A brief history of General Motors

Among the many other indignities about to be suffered by the once great General Motors Corporation, part of the ongoing transformation of American industry that began with once great steel companies closing their doors decades ago, is the company’s imminent departure from the Dow Jones Industrial Index.

It seems that, for obvious reasons, companies that spend most of their day in bankruptcy court rather than trying to make a profit are barred from the venerable index and, even though GM has been a member of that select club since 1925, no exception is expected to be made.

Oh well, now that bank stocks have staged a massive rally from their "penny stock" levels, at just over $1.30 a share, GM sort of sticks out anyway.

Not one to kick a company when it’s down, the LA Times has a neat summary of the company’s storied past – all 100 years and eight months of it – going all the way back to when William C. Durant founded it in late-1908, then lost it, then got it back, and then lost it again.

Some of the highlights from the early years:

  • 1909 – GM sells 25,000 cars and trucks.
  • 1910 – Durant brings the Buick, Olds, Pontiac, Cadillac, Champion ignition, AC spark plug and other companies into GM. Sales rise 60 percent, but earnings lag. Durant is ousted by bankers as company sinks into debt.
  • 1911 – Electric self-starter first appears on a Cadillac.
  • 1916 – GM incorporated as General Motors Corp. Durant, after founding company that builds Chevrolets, regains control.
  • 1917-19 – GM shifts most truck production to war effort.
  • 1920 – Durant resigns, later files personal bankruptcy and dies running bowling alleys…
  • 1937 – Violent sit-down strikes by GM hourly workers in Flint, Mich., shake company, lead to United Auto Workers representation.
  • 1941 – GM market share grows to 41 percent…
  • 1953 – Air conditioning first offered, on a Cadillac…
  • 1954 – GM’s U.S. market share reaches 54 percent. Company makes 50 millionth car…
  • 1960 – Reacting to invasion of small European cars, GM introduces Chevrolet Corvair. Car later attacked by Ralph Nader, who wrote book "Unsafe at Any Speed" that led to congressional auto safety hearings.
  • 1979 – GM’s U.S. employment peaks at 618,365, making it the largest private employer in the country. Worldwide employment is 853,000. Decade features sales decline, recession, Arab oil embargo and gains by Japanese automakers.
  • 1980 – Roger B. Smith named chairman. GM loses more than $750 million as car and truck sales plunge 26 percent.
  • 1981 – GM consolidates truck, bus and van operations. Auto workers bash Japanese cars with sledge hammers. Company earns $333.4 million on $62.7 billion in revenue.

Things kind of go down hill from there.

 


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