General Motors was established in 1908 in Flint, Michigan, by horse-drawn carriage mogul William Durant. In 1904, Durant invested in the Buick Motor Company, which was started in 1903 by Scottish-born inventor David Dunbar Buick. Within a few years of forming his company, Buick lost control of it and sold his stock, which would later be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (In 1929, Buick died at age 74 in relative obscurity and modest circumstances). Durant made Buick Motors the cornerstone of his new holding company, General Motors, then acquired Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Reliance Motor Company, among other auto and truck makers.
In 1911, Durant founded Chevrolet Motor Company, which by 1918 was part of GM. By the early 1930s, GM had passed the Ford Motor Company to become the world’s biggest automaker. Although Ford sold more than 15 million Model Ts between 1908 and 1927, the company was criticized for not responding quickly enough to consumer demand for new models, as GM did. GM also offered financing options to consumers, while Henry Ford objected to credit.
GM went on to experience decades of growth. The company pursued a strategy of selling a vehicle “for every purse and purpose,” in the words of Alfred Sloan, who became GM’s president in 1923 and resigned as chairman in 1956. In 1940, the company commemorated its 25 millionth American-made car, and by its peak in 1962, GM produced 51 percent of all the cars in the U.S. Its 75 millionth U.S.-made car rolled off the assembly line that year, while the 100 millionth car followed in 1967.
However, according to The New York Times, during the 1960s the automaker “began a long and slow process of undermining itself,” as it failed to innovate fast enough in the face of competition from foreign car manufacturers. In 2008, GM, hard hit by the global economic crisis, lost its title as the world’s top-selling automaker; that year, GM sold 8.356 million cars and trucks compared with Toyota’s 8.972 million vehicles. On June 1, 2009, GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was a move once considered unthinkable for the company that became a giant of the U.S. economy in the 20th century.
– History.com Staff