Remember When …

The original arches on Saginaw Street in downtown Flint, from a post card more than a century ago. Photo courtesy of the Burton Area Historical Society

The original arches on Saginaw Street in downtown Flint, from a post card more than a century ago. Photo courtesy of the Burton Area Historical Society

Do you know why Flint is called the Vehicle City? Because it was the World’s largest horse drawn Carriage manufacturing company in the world by 1900.

Have you heard of “The Flint Road Cart Company?” On Sept. 14, 1886, 24-year-old William “Billy” Durant businessman, (grandson of past Gov. Henry Crapo) of his families lumber business in Flint, was about to take a ride that would change history.

An employee of Dort, Johnny Alger, gave Billy a ride in a cart with new springs in the seat and he was full of questions. Billy had been in a lot of carriage rides with the family business, but this was a nice smooth ride and he found out the company was for sale.

He went to Coldwater and bought the cart company with a loan from Mr. Whaley, his Flint banker. His friend Dallas Dort wanted to partner with him in the manufacturing of the carts, so he sold his shares in his hardware store and joined Durant.

After bringing the entire carriage company to Flint, Billy had heard there was a Tri-State fair. He went without even making his first carriage and sold more than 600 units before he even had the factory built to start production.



Mr. Patterson’s company was hired by Durant to build them for $12.50 each until his plant was built. Billy could sell anything; people loved his positive zeal for life and working for him. People talked to him about getting him involved with automobiles and he just wasn’t sure. But eventually, 20 years later he did, and he started learning about manufacturing cars and started G.M. Sept. 16, 1908 in Flint!

September was a good month for Billy Durant and General Motors and he brought a lot the people here to Flint to make the best car. When you think of the middle class you think of the automobile industry of General Motors started by our own “Billy Durant” the visionary that would not quit. Billy was crazy enough to, but humble and brave at the same time. He went and searched the world over to find the people to make the best automobile piece by piece. Each part of the car came from different places starting from the east coast.

Billy Durant was a genius as he knew how to put a team of experts together, to make the best automobile in the world. He sought out each professional provider of the car of their specialty. David Buick made the best engine with Walter Marr; Charles Stewart Mott built axels; A.P. Sloan the ball bearings, Louis Chevrolet was his partner and test driver, Fisher made the body, Kettering engineering and batteries, Albert Champion was a bike racer and built spark plugs; James Whiting was a carriage builder too. Most of the others involved they all wanted to build their own car.

Flint has always been here for our veterans to during the war we even built tanks and other equipment for the war in our GM factories. Did you know that the first five arches in downtown Flint were put up with 50 gas lanterns each, in 1899, to light Saginaw street then to celebrate the golden jubilee of Flint becoming a City in 1905?

The Vehicle City Arches were taken down in 1919 for traffic lights and returned 2002-2008 with light bulbs. (There is so much more…). Take a walk downtown, our heritage is still going today with statues of the G.M. pioneers, my family all worked there did yours? Flint the heart of Michigan and we are proud to be the “Vehicle City” of the World.

Remember When is a weekly column in the Burton View featuring historical stories about the community from the Burton Area Historical Society. If you have some Burton history to share, email