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1911-1920 1921-1930 1931-1940
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1941-1950
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Chevrolet the First 50 Years
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Mr. Louis Chevrolet
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{short description of image} "Doughboys marching home from overthere"
Doughboys Marching Home
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Chevys first one ton truck.
Chevrolet's first one-ton truck appeared in 1918
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The second decade of the 20th century saw America enter into a new era of social change. There were signs that the country was throwing off its conservative Victorian traces. Everyone was humming tunes like "Alexander's Ragtime Band." People were starting to let go and kick their heels up to tunes like the Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear and Turkey Trot. Scott Joplin was playing his famous ragtime melodies like the Entertainer.

This was the decade that brought woman the right to vote and saw more people living in cities than rural areas for the first time. Long distance telephone service was inaugurated between New York and San Francisco. A popular comic strip "Keeping Up with the Joneses" gave birth to a phrase that had a lot of people pilfering the sugar jar to buy newfangled gadgets like cars, phonographs and telephones.

During this period, another significant event was taking shape. In March 1911, a group of men working in a loft above a small shop on Grand Avenue in Detroit began assembling the first Chevrolet car. It was the Classic Six, a five passenger touring car. Two years of experiments and tests had preceded the actual assembly work. Louis Chevrolet the colorful race driver who was famous in the early days of the century, directed the work, having been hired by W.C. Durant to design an engine for the car.

Durant was a fabulous man in the fabulous world of automobiles. His financial genius helped organize General Motors in 1908. Now he was looking for new worlds to conquer in the exciting atmosphere of the rapidly growing automobile industry.

This decade had seen public interest in cars increase and 1911 saw the first running of the Indianapolis Speed Race. A few months later on November 3, 1911, the Chevrolet Motor Company was incorporated and Durant leased a plant in Detroit for building his Chevrolet car. Two other companies, the Little Motor Car Company and the Mason Motor Company, also were started in Flint, Michigan. Little produced a 4- cylinder runabout and Mason built engines. Later, both companies became important to the expansion of Chevrolet.

Production for 1912, the first full year operations, totaled 2,999 units. When Durant merged the Little Company and Chevrolet in 1913, he gave the Chevrolet name to the Little car and moved manufacturing from the Detroit plant to Flint. This same year Henry Leland put Charles F. Kettering's electric self starter on his Cadillacs. One year later, this dramatic innovation of the electric self starter was installed on the Chevrolet car.

In the fall of 1913, a great Army team, playing an "easy" Notre Dame eleven from South Bend, led 13-0 when Gus Dorais, the Notre Dame quarterback, revolutionized the game by pitching forward passes to his end, Knute Rockne. Final score: Notre Dame 35, Army 13, and a whole new style of football came into existence.

For 1914, the car buying consumer was introduced to Chevrolet's famous Baby Grand touring car and Royal Mail roadster, and production rose to 5,987 units. This was also the year that the famous Chevrolet trademark was first used on cars. Since then, this distinctive emblem has appeared millions of times on products and in advertising and sales literature as representing dependability, economy and quality in motor transportation. It originated in Durant's creative imagination when, as a world traveler in 1908, he saw the pattern marching off into infinity as a design on the wallpaper in a French hotel. Thinking it would make a good nameplate for a car, he tore off a small section and kept it to show friends.

Later he decided on the mane Chevrolet for his car because men like Louis Chevrolet were heroes of the day, and also because he felt the name had a musical sound plus the glamor and romance of foreign origin.

Another important achievement introduced in the 1914 Chevrolet was the valve-in-head engine. This engine has since become a basic design principle of all modern automobile power plants. Here is a description of the 1914 valve-in-head engine taken from the advertising of that year.

"Gasoline is introduced directly into the cylinder head and exploded there. The full force of the explosion comes into direct contact with the piston head. For this reason Chevrolet power is maximum with minimum fuel."

In June 1914, the Maxwell Motor Company's Tarrytown, New York plant was purchased for assembly operations to meet the growing demand for Chevrolet cars. The need for a wholesale selling organization was met with the establishment of an office in Oakland, California. Other offices opened a year later in Kansas City, Missouri; and Oshawa, Canada.

On the international scene in 1915, the lamps were going out all over Europe as the old powers engaged in "The War to end all Wars" - World War I

In the U.S., Chevrolet brought out the "490" model, named after its price - $490.00. Also in 1915, electric lights became standard equipment on some models. And due to increasing sales, Chevrolet licensed the Gardner Buggy Company in St. Louis to assemble additional cars.

In 1916the great Detroit Tiger outfielder Ty Cobb failed to win the American League batting championship for the first time in ten years. He surrendered his crown to Tris Speaker of the Cleveland Indians. This same year saw the Federal income tax declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

With the 1916 models, Chevrolet was set to make its bid for leadership of the mass market. By this time Chevrolet production facilities included plants in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bay City, Michigan. The Warner Gear operation in Toledo, Ohio was acquired and became the Chevrolet -Toledo Manufacturing plant. Also opened that same year was the Oakland, California, assembly plant which was the first in the industry on the West Coast. Production jumped to 70,000 cars by the end of 1916; the following year 125,882 units were produced. 1916 also saw Chevrolet build its first closed car body. Retail stores were opened in many large cities to ensure the cars were more readily available.


A new 90-degree valve-in-head V-8 engine was introduced in 1917, while the Mason Motor Company in Flint merged with Chevrolet to supply engines. Also the forerunner of todays hardtop, a Chevrolet "490" coupe with removable posts that made it an open car for touring was released for the first time.

In 1918 and 1919, as the boys came marching home from Europe to the strains of "Mademoiselle From Armentieres," they found their country going dry from prohibition and getting wet with the joyful tears of suffragettes.

During 1918, Chevrolet became a part of General Motors and embarked upon a new era of even greater expansion.

A new assembly plant was started in St. Louis and Chevrolet began building light-delivery and 1-ton trucks. As the decade drew to a close, Chevrolet completed its first full year with General Motors by producing nearly 150,000 units in 1919.

America had now forsaken her old patterns and stood poised on the brink of a world full of raccoon coats, flappers and flagpole sitters... and Chevrolet was ready to go along for the ride.
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The Classic Six
The First Chevrolet
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Wood instrument panel and steering wheel standard on 1918 touring car
That's a 1917 V-8 on top. Wood steering wheel and instrumental panel were standard on 1918 Chevrolet touring Cars.
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1917 V-8
An enlagred look at the '17 90-degree valve-in-head V-8.
Click here to go back to Chevytalk.Com
Back to Chevytalk
1911-1920 1921-1930 1931-1940
Coming Soon
1941-1950
Coming Soon
1951-1960
Coming Soon
Chevrolet the First 50 Years