Charles Williams Nash

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Charles W. Nash
Charles Williams Nash.jpg
Born Charles Williams Nash
(1864-01-28)January 28, 1864
Cortland, Illinois
Died June 6, 1948(1948-06-06) (aged 84)
Beverly Hills, California
Nationality United States
Occupation Automobile industry entrepreneur and executive
Years active 1890–1936
Known for
Spouse(s) Jessie Halleck

Charles Williams Nash (January 28, 1864 – June 6, 1948) was an American automobile entrepreneur who served as an executive in the automotive industry. He played a major role in building up General Motors. In 1916 he bought a small Wisconsin automobile maker, renamed it Nash Motors, and played an independent role in an automobile industry increasingly dominated by the Base Three: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. His profits came from focusing on one, well-designed car in the upper medium price range. He bought several distressed companies in Wisconsin, merging them and installing advanced managerial accounting procedures, while cutting costs and focusing on long-term growth. He retired as president in 1932, but remained chairman of the board. His major acquisition was the merger in 1937 with the Kelvinator Company, which made refrigerators. During World War II, Nash-Kelvinator greatly expanded to manufacture aircraft motors and parts.

Early life[edit]

Nash was born to a poor farming family in Cortland, Illinois, on what is now Route 38 — Lincoln Highway. His mother was Anna E. "Annie" Cadwell (1829–1909) who married David L. Nash. Other Nash siblings included Mazovia (b. 1862), George C. (b. 1866) and Laura W. (b. 1868).

After Charles' parent's separation, at age 6, Charles worked as a farm-hand in Michigan as an indentured servant under an agreement that was to last until he was 21.[1] He had only three months of schooling per year while he was "bound out" to perform farm chores.[1] At age 12, Nash ran away and became a farm hand first in Grand Blanc, Michigan for $8 per month, then for Alexander McFarland in Mount Morris, Michigan for $12 per month. On McFarland's farm he learned the carpentry trade from John Shelben and formed the 'Adams & Nash' concern to press hay. While pressing hay on the Halleck farm, he met and married his future wife. On April 23, 1884, he married Jessie Halleck. Later, they then moved to Flint, Michigan, due to Jessie's poor health.[3] In 1890 where he was hired by William C. Durant of the Flint Road Cart Company which later became the Durant-Dort Carriage Company.[3]

Automobile industry[edit]

Durant hired him in 1890 at a wage of $1 per day as an upholstery stuffer and within six months, he was promoted to superintendent of the factory. Within ten years, he was promoted to vice president and general manager of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company.[3] Nash introduced the straight-line belt conveyor into the assembly of carriages.[4] In 1897, Nash had a chance to drive an early one-cylinder electric automobile, and became very interested in the commercial potential of this newly developed contraption.

General Motors[edit]

By 1910, the chief business of Durant-Dort Carriage Company was building automobile bodies for Buick. Durant was the president of the new General Motors Corporation, but was overextended financially and in terms of management. Durant brought Nash over to Buick to take over production; Nash became vice-president of Buick on 13 December 1910. In 1912, Nash hired Walter Chrysler from the American Locomotive Company to be the Buick Works Manager. [3][5]

In late 1912, Durant was fired by the GM board and Nash became president of General Motors. He focused on making GM a more efficient operation by liquidating unprofitable plants and streamlining manufacturing. He arranged for GM to purchase 51% of axlemaker Weston-Mott. Cost-cutting and higher sales were top priorities for the time frame. [3][5] In three years time, he restored GM to organizational stability and financial good health. His strategy of consolidating into large units paid off: he combined three different truck operations into one and he merged several parts-making operations. Keen on building up an international market, he set up the General Motors Export Company to handle international sales. He moved the general offices from New York City to Detroit, created a new purchasing office, and set up their standardized accounting system and a new accounting office. However, his reluctance to pay dividends to shareholders resulted in Nash being forced out of GM in 1915 by Durant.[6]

Nash Motors[edit]

Nash then resolved never again to work for someone else. He bought out the Jeffery Motor Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 1916 and in 1917, renamed it as Nash Motors. The 1917 Nash Model 671 was the first vehicle produced to bear the name of the new company's founder.[7] The new company was successful, with sales totaling 31,008 trucks and cars by 1919.[8]

In addition to running Nash Motors, Nash was also president of the luxury car company LaFayette Motors until that company was bought out by Nash Motors in 1924.

By 1929, the Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler controlled three fourths of the automobile market. Nash came next, producing 138,000 vehicles in 1928. He focused on producing one high-quality automobile for the upper medium price range, later adding a smaller model, the "Ajax". He knew he could never compete with the Big Three in mass production of many different models, so he made his profits with careful management and close attention to costs, and opportunities for expansion. Nash was a hands-on executive, who concentrated on cutting costs, developing more efficient purchasing, and setting up accounting procedures that would specify the source of this costs and profits. He purchased numerous failed companies and incorporated them. In 1937 he merged his company with Kelvinator, a leading maker of refrigerators, to become the Nash-Kelvinator company. He gave up the presidency in 1932, but kept power in his own hands as chairman of the board. During World War II, Nash-Kelvinator temporarily stopped production of automobiles and consumer goods, and instead dramatically expanded with Pentagon contracts for aircraft engines, propellers, and other munitions. [9]


He retired in 1945 to California and died at the age of 84 in Beverly Hills, California.[10] His health failed at the death of his wife in 1947.[11] He died in 1948, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale next to his wife.


Nash is best known for responding to public demand by building a smaller, more economical and affordable cars.[2] Nash Motors was very successful marketing cars to America's middle class. He is also recognized for lean operations in business that included scheduling production and material orders closely, carrying a small inventory, and having flexibility in meeting the changing market needs during the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s.[2] Nash, is also credited with developing the straight-line conveyor belt assembly system that he first introduced at the Durant-Dort Carriage Company factory.[12]

Charles W. Nash's achievements by 1926 were characterized as a "success" story:[13]

A man who, in the short space of nine years, has built up a business on which there is not a dollar of bonded indebtedness, whose stocks have a market value approximating $137,000,000, whose profits have exceeded $56,000,000, and whose bank balance tops $30,000,000, surely must be regarded as a very practical authority on what makes for success.

— Automotive Giants of America: Men Who Are Making Our Motor Industry



  1. ^ a b c Automotive Golden Jubilee Civic Committee (June 1946). "Automotive Pioneers". The Michigan Technic. LXIV (8): 11, 22, 26. Retrieved 17 March 2016. Charles W. Nash, Beverly Hills, California, who headed some of the industry's largest companies in a long and colorful career 
  2. ^ a b c "Charles W. Nash - 1975 Inductee". Automobile Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Nash story dates back to bicycle-carriage era". Blue Island Sun Standard. 8 December 1949. 
  4. ^ Rae (1974)
  5. ^ a b Landworth, Richard M. (1986). The Complete History of General Motors 1908-1986. Beekman House. ISBN 0-517-60413-2. 
  6. ^ Ingham, Biographical dictionary of American business leaders (1983) 999-1000.
  7. ^ Lewis, Albert L.; Musciano, Walter A. (1977). Automobiles of the World. Simon and Schuster. p. 280. ISBN 9780671224851. 
  8. ^ "Overview: Charles Warren Nash". Motorbase. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  9. ^ Rae 1974
  10. ^ Rae (1974)
  11. ^ "C.W. Nash Near Death As His Wife Succumbs". The New York Times. 20 August 1947. p. 25. Retrieved 17 March 2016. Charles W. Nash, one of the nation's pioneer auto makers, took a turn for the worse and was near death himself today after he was told that the wife he had married sixty-three years ago had died last night. 
  12. ^ Lewis, Albert L.; Musciano, Walter A. (1977). Automobiles of the World. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671224851. 
  13. ^ Forbes, B.C.; Foster, O.D. Automotive Giants of America: Men Who Are Making Our Motor Industry. Pacific Northwest Region of the Nash Car Club of America , from: B.C. Forbes Publishing, 1926, pp. 211-224. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ingham, John N. Biographical dictionary of American business leaders (Greenwood, 1983). 3:999-1001.
  • Rae, John B. "Nash, Charles Williams, 1864 - 1948," Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4 (1974)

External links[edit]


  • 1910 — Charles Nash takes control of General Motors from William Durant.
  • 1912 - Charles Nash hires Walter P. Chrysler to manage Buick division of General Motors
  • 1912 - Nash becomes president of General Motors
  • 1916 — William Durant re-gains control of General Motors and fires Charles Nash.
  • 1916 — Charles Nash buys the Thomas B. Jeffery Company.
  • 1917 — Thomas B. Jeffery Company is renamed "Nash Motors".
  • 1917 - First Nash designed car, "Model 681" is produced
  • 1918 - Nash becomes the largest producer of trucks in the world, building 11,490 four-wheel drive quads for the US Army
  • 1919 - Nash purchased half interest in the Seamon Body Corporation of Milwaukee - the builder of bodies for Rambler, Jeffery, and Nash
  • 1925 - Purchased plant from the Mitchell Motor Car Company in Racine, Wisconsin
  • 1930 - Nash retires and becomes Chairman of the Board
  • 1937 - Merged Nash with Kelvinator to entire Charles Mason to run the company. The new company was called Nash-Kelvinator
  • 1948 - Nash dies.
Business positions
Preceded by
Thomas Neal
President General Motors
Succeeded by
William C. Durant
Preceded by
Thomas B. Jeffery Company
Chairman and CEO of Nash Motors
Succeeded by
George W. Mason