Durant-Dort Factory One

Durant-Dort Factory One
A General Motors Heritage Site
Flint, Michigan

Flint, Michigan is steeped in history, and not just automotive history. Native American history, history of the early settlers, and the lumber industry, which was key to Flint’s growth through the late 19th Century, shaped the city and the culture. But by the 1890s, the trees were running out, threatening Flint’s very existence. William “Billy” Crapo Durant went into the horse-drawn carriage business with partner J. Dallas Dort and by 1900 became the nation’s largest carriage makers, right out of this factory as the Dort-Durant Carriage Company. Meanwhile, an ailing lumber company desperate to find new sources of income as the forests ran out has just purchased the fledgling Buick Motor Company of Detroit. They didn’t know anything about the business and began sinking fast. Billy Durant swooped in, took control of Buick, moved it to Flint, and by 1908 made Buick the world’s largest automaker by volume. Very soon, Durant parlayed Buick’s success into the birth of General Motors. So, while the Durant-Dort Factory One building wasn’t used to build cars at this point, it was the foundation for what would become GM, the world’s largest car company. The Durant-Dort Factory One produced carriages, and even some bicycles, until 1917 when it was converted to automotive production for the Dort Motor Car Company, “Billy” Durant’s failed attempt to regain control of GM when he was pushed out by Alfred P. Sloan until 1925 when he company closed.

ABOVE: At the turn of the 20th Century, heavy manufacturing required access to railways to move the goods to market, and an ample supply of water, in this case the Flint River. Durant-Dort Factory One is the brick building. This angle helps to show the depth and size of the building.

Today the Durant-Dort Factory One is sort of an event center that can be rented for events like weddings and graduations. There are some cars inside, but very few, along with some early GM memorabilia and educational displays. There was a graduation about to take place when we arrived, although you could never tell from the outside. I went to the front door, asking about Durant-Dort Factory One. Is it a museum? Are there cars inside? I asked. Before the doorman could answer a very nice lady invited me in and walked me right past the registration table then disappeared into the crowd. There in front of me were three or four gorgeous old Buick road cars and racers on display. My focus went to them, and as I moved along taking pictures of them, I suddenly realized that I was on stage and that the entire audience was watching me. Thankfully the event hadn’t actually started yet and some people were still shuffling around, so all the attention wasn’t on me. But there I was, standing behind the podium for a second or three, with my blue “Hot August Nights 2017” sweat shirt on, looking like a lost tourist (which I was). For a moment, it seemed like every eye in the audience was on me. An instant later, the staff caught up with me and ushered me out. I tried to get a shot of the race car I missed on the way in, but they weren’t having it. I cheerfully apologized, saying that I hadn’t even asked to come in, but the nice lady insisted. That’s when they told me “She doesn’t work here”. And out I went. The doorman sheepishly admitted that he had radioed in my incursion to his boss, and we both had a good laugh. Turns out he was a retired engineer from the old Buick factory and had lots of great stories from the glory days and the dark days.

ABOVE & BELOW: William C. Durant and partner Dallas Dort built this office building in 1896 to serve as the headquarters for the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. Many of the early decisions and plans that were made that led to the birth of General Motors were made in this building. Later, after is 1917 split with GM, Durant ran his new car company, the Dort Motor Co. out of this building until they went belly up in 1925.

ABOVE: Me and the boys. From left-to-right: William C. “Billy” Durant, Andy Tallone (yours truly) & J. Dallas Dort, on the banks of the Flint River, near the Durant-Dort Factory One complex.