On November 3 Chevrolet celebrated its 100th anniversary. From the humble beginnings of a Swiss race car driver to an iconic namesake, what an amazing century it has been. From Detroit to the world, the Chevy brand has made its way into music, television, and history. It’s as American as ‘baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie’. The Chevy name is as much a part of Michigan history as Detroit itself, but the story of Chevrolet begins in Switzerland, where Louis Chevrolet was born and raised.
Christmas Day, December 25, 1878 Louis-Joseph Chevrolet was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and moved to France when he was nine years old. Louis learned to repair and build bicycles, learned the basics of gears and mechanics, and eventually built and sold his own bicycle called the Frontenac.
Louis is said to have been inspired to come to America when he met American millionaire William K. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt needed his cycle repaired while vacationing in Europe and was so impressed with young Louis he told him he should go to America where great opportunities for someone of his skills awaited. And in 1902, after living in Montreal, Canada for a time, that is what he did. On May 2, 1902 the Chevrolet family arrived in Brooklyn, NY aboard the S.S. La Savoie.
Louis Chevrolet had developed an interest in bicycle racing early on in Europe and that interest had progressed to automobiles easily. Chevrolet became known for his mechanical skills and began racing cars in 1905, soon after to be selected as a Fiat Team driver. In 1909 Louis and his brother Arthur joined the Buick Race Team, where he met William C. Durant. Durant founded the General Motor Company in 1908, and urged Chevrolet to join him and build a luxury six-cylinder automobile. On November 3, 1911, William “Billy” Durant and Louis Chevrolet co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan. The relationship between Louis and Durant was short lived and in 1913 Chevrolet parted ways with the company, leaving behind his name as the Chevrolet brand, which is still in production today.
For one hundred years Chevrolet has produced many vehicles, such as the Corvette, Bel-Air, Camaro, Impala, El-Camino, and Suburban. But the Chevrolet name, and all that it represents–whether it be freedom or youth or luxury or style–has become a part of popular culture in ways that not even Louis-Joseph could ever have predicted. From the Wall Street Journal:
Chevy also embedded itself in American culture, sometimes changing it by knowing what people wanted to drive before they did. Snappy jingles and slogans dominated radio and television, and bands mentioned Chevys in more than 700 songs. No other automotive brand has come close to the adoration that Chevy won from customers, especially in the 1950s and ’60s.
In music it has been immortalised in Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ ~ “Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry” and in ‘4-0-9’ by the Beach Boys. Famous Michigan rocker Bob Seger’s song ‘Night Moves’ tells of a liason out in the backseat of his ’60 Chevy and ‘Like a Rock’ was used as an ad campaign selling Chevy trucks. But perhaps the two most well known Chevrolet memories are the Dinah Shore Chevy Show and the “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” ad.
In 1956 Dinah Shore became the first woman to host her own TV show, the Dinah Shore Chevy Show. Dinah ended the show by singing ‘See the USA in Your Chevrolet’ every episode and did numerous commercial ads for the company. Dinah can be seen performing the song here:
And who could ever forget this famous 1970’s Chevrolet commercial, as much a part of American culture as, well…baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie:
“They go together, in the good old USA.” Indeed, they do.
After Louis-Joseph Chevrolet parted ways with Durant and General Motors, selling his stock and forfeiting his own namesake, he went on to design race cars under the brand name Frontenac from his earlier days and continued with his great love, racing.
General Motors has seen many tumultuous changes of its own through the years. However, the company is making headway and whether one approves of the so-called “auto-bailouts” or not, the car company is making great progress both in its corporate restructuring and its committment to designing cars with the future in mind. General Motors employs 209,000 people and sells over 7.5 million vehicles in 120 countries worldwide. The General Motors World Headquarters is located in downtown Detroit, where it engages in the oversight of all of its brands which include Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Daewoo, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling .
The story of Chevrolet is very much a part of the story of General Motors, and has played a major role in not only the industry of a nation and the world, but in popular culture, as well. Through the last century that story has seen struggle and change and reformation and it all started with a mechanically inclined young man named Louis-Joseph Chevrolet.
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