Automobile Tycoon William Durant Lived on Small Pension and Owned a Bowling Alley
The story of former automobile tycoon William Durant (1861 – 1947) may be a story which can be viewed as a “riches to rags” story or the classic fall from grace. While it is true that Durant made a fortune in the automobile industry only to lose it all, that can hardly be the summation of his life. He made important contributions to a technology that would later change the world: automobiles. Initially, he detested them back when they were known as “horseless carriages”. He found their exhaust fumes obnoxious. He also found the vehicles unsafe. He would not even let his daughter near one.
By the turn of the century, the general public was demanding government regulations to improve the safety of the vehicles. Durant saw this as a golden opportunity to get ahead of public on the issue and provide them just the type of vehicle they demanded. He bought a little known car maker called Buick and by 1904 turned it into General Motors Holding Company with the aid of Canadian auto manufacturer Samuel McLaughlin. Eventually, McLaughlin’s own company would evolve into General Motors of Canada. However, Durant found maintaining control of GM to be elusive. He was eventually forced out of the job as CEO. Though he eventually returned to control the company again, he was once more forced out by 1920.
This time around, he formed Durant Motors and became the poster child of success in the roaring 20s. The stock market crash of 1929 hit his interests hard. In an effort to reassure investors, he and other prominent businessmen bought up large quantities of stocks. This caused him to exacerbate his losses. By 1936, he was bankrupt. That same year, he bought a bowling alley at the age of 75, but it too failed a year later. He lived off of what was said to be a small pension arranged by his old friend Samuel McLaughlin. The pension amount was $10,000 a year. When Durant died in 1947, his $10,000 a year pension still represented over 6x the US federal minimum wage. Put another way, he earned the equivalent of $46.50/hr by modern standards.