As the (first) Great Depression came to a close, Walt Chrysler was able to glance around the big power table at the various leaders of his company and see men who had started their careers by fixing and building machines with their hands. Each and every one of them, Chrysler was proud to report, held perfect knowledge of the mechanical intricacies within the cars they were trying to sell. It was a company run by mechanics, just like him. Contrast that to what's happened in recent years. When the company was held by Cerberus, the investment fund aptly named for the three-headed dog-demon that guards the underworld, its officers had no idea how to sell cars, let alone build them. No exaggeration.



The Depression years brought profound changes to the auto industry. The man who had allegedly sabotaged scab-carrying trains in Trinidad several decades earlier found himself on the other side, having inherited labor troubles along with his Dodge acquisition. In the spring of 1937 tens of thousands of workers staged a historic sit-down strike across Chrysler's several plants. On March 17, 1937, the New York Times reported "more than 6,000 sit-downers in eight Chrysler automobile plants heavily armed with clubs, wrenches and missiles of all kinds." Be advised, these guys have wrenches. Repeat, they have wrenches. A judge ordered all 6,000 arrested, an order which was impossible to complete. The strike ended with the unionization of the Chrysler workforce, after a multi-day 'peace conference' with Walt Chrysler and labor leaders at the Governor's office. It was the first of many strikes at the company's factories, but Chrysler himself would only see a few of them. He died in August 1940, after Hitler had conquered Europe and set his sights on England.

In stark contrast to GM and Ford, the Chrysler company was not engaged in building trucks and bombers for the German military buildup at the outset of World War II. During the war Chrysler's factories turned out the famous workhorse Dodge trucks, and Sherman tanks, among other products. American factories having remained notably unbombed throughout the war, the postwar years were boom years for Chrysler and other domestic auto manufacturers, even as the UAW gained strength and carved out entitlements along the way. Massive federal programs to create the highway system and populate the suburbs, along with other state and local expenditures, laid the groundwork for America's modern motoring infrastructure and culture. The government actively promoted the ideal of one-person-one-incredibly-heavy-car and the public actively embraced it. For 25 years the favored industry chugged along, banking ever larger profits, with an abundance of cheap gasoline in its tank and very little concern from the public about what was coming out of its tailpipe. Were there any potholes in the road ahead?