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 Big 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 engines 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's parents' separation when he was 6, he worked as a farmhand 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 farmhand, 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 his future wife, Jessie Halleck, and married her on April 23, 1884. They moved to Flint, Michigan, due to Jessie's poor health, and [3] in 1890 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 Nash in 1890 for $1 per day as an upholstery stuffer. Within six months, he was promoted to superintendent of the factory. Within 10 years, Nash became 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 automobile and immediately became interested in its commercial possibilities.

General Motors[edit]

By 1910, the chief business of Durant-Dort Carriage Company was building automobile bodies for the Buick unit of General Motors. W.C. Durant was president of the new General Motors Corporation but found himself short of both capital and skilled management. Durant brought Nash to Buick to oversee production, and Nash became vice-president of Buick on 13 December 1910. In 1912, Nash hired Walter P. Chrysler from the American Locomotive Company to be Buick's works manager. [3][5]

In late 1912, Durant was fired by the General Motors board, and Nash became the corporation's president. He focused on making GM a more efficient operation by getting rid of unprofitable products and streamlining manufacturing. He arranged for GM to purchase 51% of axlemaker Weston-Mott. Cost-cutting and higher sales were his top priorities. [3][5] Within three years, Nash had restored GM to organizational stability and financial health. His strategy of consolidating into large units paid off: he combined three different truck operations into one and 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 also moved GM's general offices from New York to Detroit, created a new purchasing office, and set up a new accounting office with standardized accounting procedures. However, his reluctance to pay dividends to shareholders resulted in Nash being forced out of GM in 1915 by Durant, who had again taken over the corporation.[6]

Nash Motors[edit]

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

In addition to running his own company, Charles Nash also served as president of the luxury automaker LaFayette Motors until Nash Motors bought LaFayette in 1924.

By 1929, the Big Three--GM, Ford, and Chrysler--controlled 75% of the automobile market. Nash came next, producing 138,000 vehicles in 1928. Charles Nash focused on producing one high-quality automobile for the upper medium price range, later adding a smaller, less expensive model, the Ajax. Nash realized he could never compete with the market diversity of the Big Three, so he based his profits on careful management, close attention to costs, and opportunities for expansion. Nash was a hands-on executive, who concentrated on developing more efficient purchasing and setting up accounting procedures that would specify the source of costs and profits. Nash also purchased a number of failed entities and incorporated them into his own company. In 1937, Nash Motors merged with Kelvinator, a leading maker of refrigerators, to become Nash-Kelvinator. Charles Nash gave up the presidency in 1932 but remained board chairman. During World War II, Nash-Kelvinator temporarily stopped producing automobiles and consumer goods, instead expanding with military contracts for aircraft engines, propellers, and other materiel. [9]


Charles W. Nash retired in 1945 to California and died at the age of 84 in Beverly Hills, California.[10] His health started to fail during his wife's illness and death 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 remembered for responding to public demand by building smaller, more economical and affordable cars.[2] Nash Motors was successful in marketing cars to America's middle class. Charles Nash 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 genuine 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 automakers, 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