Photo, letters and other ephemera from the early days of automotive manufacturing have a new home in Flint, Mich., in a restored carriage factory where a pair of young entrepreneurs started the company that would become General Motors.
The Durant-Dort Factory One Archive opened on Monday with a display of carriages and automobiles hailing from early 20th century Flint.
The former cotton mill, located along the Flint River, beginning in 1886 was the manufacturing facility for General Motors founders William Durant and Josiah Dort, who rented it for $25 a month. This was in their pre-car days: The pair built horse-drawn carriages there, and gained the know-how and capital to invest in a series of small automakers that in 1908 became GM.
GM bought the building in 2013—it had recently housed social services offices and a Blarney Stone restaurant—and spent more than $3 million in the preservation effort.
The Factory One archives includes, among other things, Durant’s papers and Kettering University’s vast collection of papers and photographs on automotive history. Some gems: a 1908 letter from a New York law firm suggesting that Durant call his new auto company General Motors, and photos of GM factories dating back to the early 1900s.
Durant was the real visionary of the pair, and like many independent thinkers, had an interesting history that didn’t follow a straight line: He built up and was ousted from General Motors twice by 1920, then lost his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929. In 1940, when he was in his 70s, he had the grand idea of launching a national chain of family-friendly bowling alleys. He got as far as opening the North Flint Recreation bowling alley near the Buick complex by 1940, and Flint’s first drive-in restaurant, the Horseshoe Bar, before his death in 1947.
Dort soldiered on with the carriage company until 1917, when he sold it and started the Dort Motor Company, a short-lived automaker whose signature model promised “small car comfort” and “remarkable hill-climbing ability.”