Walter Chrysler building in Manhattan, New York City, NY

Contours of Corporate History: Chrysler

A landmark in corporate history was reached 90 years ago today that auto tycoon Walter Chrysler opened his namesake building in Manhattan. The art deco masterpiece was by far the most visually compelling addition to the New York skyline and also the tallest, outstripping the Woolworth Building by more than 200 feet. Walter Chrysler’s moment in the sun did not last long: The Empire State Building overtook it less than a year later.

As the smallest of the “Big Three” automakers, Chrysler knew what it was like to be in the shade of Ford and GM. By the 1970s all three were in trouble due to rising production costs, quality problems, and years of design complacency. In 1979, Lee Iacocca created a new corporate landmark when he famously convinced the United States Congress to provide Chrysler with a $1.5 billion relief package. That landmark held until 2009 when GM received its own, much larger, federal bailout. Today, Walter Chrysler’s company (now Fiat Chrysler) remains a distant third among US automakers. His building has dropped to 11th place in the Manhattan skyline sweepstakes.


A New Year and a New New York

This week, New Yorkers from across the boroughs gathered together in Times Square to celebrate New Year’s Eve, just as they have done since 1907 (with a few exceptions). But just ten years earlier they gathered separately. On December 31, 1897, to fireworks and bands, Manhattanites celebrated both the new year and the creation of “Greater New York.” Across the East River, the best citizens gathered in mourning on an appropriately cold and rainy night. At midnight, Brooklyn, then the nation’s fourth largest city, would give up its independence. Some thought it inevitable, at least since completion of the bridge in 1883, but it could have been otherwise—the “consolidation” movement won by a mere 277 votes out of 129,000.