I recently acquired a framed advertising poster for Flint Wagon Works. If you are not from the Flint area or not a gearhead with a penchant for very very early historical items, you might be thinking "not my thing". Well I'm from the Flint area, a gearhead, and I collect early historical items related the auto industry and I was giddy for days after winning the online auction.
Way back before Flint Michigan became known for the birthplace of General Motors and even before one automobile was assembled, Flint was known as the 'Vehicle City'. Vehicles as in buggies, carts, and carriages. Flint still has the original iron arches over the brick main street in downtown Flint.
Back in the day.
Current downtown with Vehicle City arches.
Flint Wagon Works was founded in 1882, incorporated in 1884, and sold to Billy Durant in 1910 for shares of Chevrolet stock. Flint Wagon Works already owned the rights to Buick and had built several Buicks in the Flint Wagon Works factory.
The Flint wagon, cart, and carriage builders were perfect craftsman to build the first cars. The wheels and bodies were wooden just like the vehicles that they were already building. Flint carriages and carts were built with a new and improved suspension that was perfect for the new automobile. Axles were very similar, too. The only thing different was that instead of horse power it was hp.
William Crapo Durant or as he is referred to in Flint "Billy"
Durant now had control of Buick and Chevrolet and in 1918 formed General Motors Corporation and as they say the rest is history.
My grandfather started working at The Buick during the early 1920's, after leaving his railroad machinist job in northern Minnesota for the bright lights of Flint Michigan. People were coming to Flint in droves. There wasn't even enough housing so many times just the husband would come to Flint until there was a house available. I have a vintage Flint postcard collection and it is so interesting to read what these men wrote back to their families.
My grandfather told me that everyone was playing the stock market and buying on margin in the 1920's. He said even the secretaries in the factories would buy stock on margin on Monday and sell on Friday for a profit without using a dime of their own money.
Flint in the 1920's was a booming place much like the Silicon Valley in the 1970's and 1980's. The leading edge of technology was happening in Flint. Albert Champion made spark plugs for WWI airplanes for the allies. WWI airplanes were only as good as the spark plug that was screwed into the cylinder head. If the spark plug didn't fire or missed, the airplane didn't stay in the air very long. Albert Champion's spark plugs were also used by aviation greats Lindbergh and Earhart. AND they were made in Flint Michigan.
The spark plugs were made Monday through Friday and Flint Faience Tile was made on Saturday and Sunday in the same kilns from 1921 to 1933. I have Flint Faience Tile in my house and I have collected several tile pieces. My favorite piece is a tile from the door surround at the AC Spark Plug factory in Flint. I love the little spark plug detail.
You can read about the tile HERE.
I was trying to date this advertising poster and the only dates I have to go on are the dates that they were in business, which were 1882 and when they were folded into Chevrolet in 1910. But there are officers names in the corner of the poster so I looked them up and found some interesting facts.
The officers listed in the bottom left corner were.....
D. S. Fox died in 1901.
G. L. Walker died in 1909.
J. H. Whiting has a concert theater named after him called The Whiting.
A. J. Beach has a street named after him.
That info means my poster was printed no later than 1901 but not before 1882. This poster was a rare find and it will look great alongside my other memorabilia like my Flint Wagon Works watch fob.
My grandfather, father, and I were all tradesmen at GM and now my son is an engineer for GM, so I know how GM has impacted my life. But did you know that every day you, too, are impacted by what happened in Flint, Michigan.
David Dunbar Buick developed the process to put enamel on cast iron plumbing fixtures. He sold that process to Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company.
He used that $$ to develop the valve in head cylinder heads that are still used in internal combustion engines today and to build a Buick automobile which were built here in Flint.
When you walk to your refrigerator to take out a cold beer, you can thank Billy Durant of Flint Michigan. He used his own money to finance R & D work on an appliance that would keep your food not only cold but safe to eat. He owned the patent but once the 'Frigidaire' was developed he gave the patent rights back to the inventor for zero dollars. Durant received nothing in return but the satisfaction of having a hand in inventing something useful.
On a side note, we had to buy a new fridge this past Saturday. The old Frigidaire gave out after 20 years so we bought another Frigidaire. Thank you Billy.
Not only was Flint responsible for the spark plugs that were used in WWI, Flint also made tanks and airplane engines for WWII.
Then of course you can thank Flint when you get into your car and it starts right up because Albert Champion invented the modern day fuel pump and ignition along with the current design of spark plug that is used in your vehicle. Believe it or not, the spark plug has changed very little since Albert Champion designed it. It will probably stay that way until the next generation of fuel injectors which will combine the injector, spark plug, and coil all into one part. This will eliminate the spark plug wires and the spark plug as we know it now. That design will eliminates two parts that can fail thus increasing durability.
I know your eyes are probably glazing over by now so I will leave you with this one little ironic tidbit of Flint trivia. Flint Michigan is currently known for their poor water quality but ironically Billy Durant also ran the Flint Water Works while running the Durant-Dort Carriage operation. Unfortunately the pipes that are bad were probably installed during or before the glory days of the 1920's. I bet if Billy were alive today, that water would be crystal clear.