I’ve been doing a radio-tour to promote my new book The Life of Charles Stewart Mott: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Mr. Flint. Most of the interviews are excellent, showing that the host has actually dug into the book and has some meaningful questions to ask. But every once in a while, it goes something like this. Note that this is an extreme spoof/parody of the type of thing that can sometimes happen, not a real interview.
We’re back live on WDHL, your home for traffic, news, and weather together every 15, and we’re here to talk to Ed Renehan about his new biography The Life of Charles Stewart Mott: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Mr. Flint, published this month by the University of Michigan Press. Good morning, Ed, and thanks for being with us.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
So, I understand this Charlie Flint was quite the industrialist and philanthropist in his day.
Well, yes, umm … Charles Stewart Mott was one of the founding executives of General Motors, and a great and important innovator in the early days of the auto industry. He served on the GM board of directors for sixty years, and for much of that time was the largest single individual shareholder in the firm. He was also a major philanthropist in his adopted hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Wow, so Charlie Flint lived in a town that was actually named after himself. Cool! But don’t drink the water, am I right? [Burst of canned laughter.]
Well, you know, the water crisis in Flint is nothing to laugh about …
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But never mind that. Let’s cut to the chase. If this guy Charlie Flint was such a big deal at GM why don’t we drive a Flint today? What do you say to that? We’ve got Buick. We’ve got Chevrolet. What about a Flint?
You mean Charles Stewart Mott, not Charlie Flint. As for your question, none of Charles Stewart Mott’s colleagues in the top echelon of General Motors had their names used as car brands. Mott’s closest contemporaries at the helm of GM were Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., Charles Kettering, and Pierre du Pont. Others who came and went, leaving only their names behind, included David Buick and Louis Chevrolet. But those guys did not have major stakes in the corporation. In fact, David Buick died in a charity ward.
A charity ward. Wow. Bummer. But hey, speaking of hospitals, weren’t Sloan and Kettering the two doctors who founded that cancer hospital in New York. You know the one. What’s that name again? It’s on the tip of my tongue.
Yes. I KNOW that’s right. Alfred Sloan endowed the hospital and put his colleague Kettering’s name on it as well, since it was Kettering’s longtime amateur interest in cancer research which had piqued Sloan’s interest.
Well, enough about cancer. Too much of a downer. Hell, this is a morning show … So, SIXTY YEARS on the GM board of directors! That means Charlie Flint was, what, about ten years old when he joined the firm? Thank God for modern child labor laws, you know what I mean? [Burst of canned laughter.]
Charles Stewart Mott was born in 1875, ten years after the Lincoln assassination. He lived into his 98th year, dying at age 97 in 1973, two years before the founding of Microsoft. He served on the GM board from 1913 until his death. Some have called him a “Second Century Man” as his life took up, and very much reflected, the second century of the American Republic. He was born during horse and buggy days; the last car he drove was a Corvair.
Well, we know all about the Corvair, don’t we? Ralph Nader, right? Unsafe At Any Speed. So that’s how this Charlie Flint died, in his Corvair. Ironic if you think about it.
Charles Stewart Mott did NOT die in a Corvair. He died in a hospital bed at the ripe old age of 97. I only mentioned the Corvair to illustrate …
You mean Charlie Flint died at Sloan-Kettering? That’s also ironic.
CHARLES STEWART MOTT did NOT die at Sloan-Kettering. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flint.
Then why did you bring it up?
I didn’t bring it up, you …
Now, you say this fellow was a philanthropist. I’ve heard of the Carnegie Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and so many others. I’ve never heard of the Charlie Flint Foundation.
The CHARLES STEWART MOTT Foundation was founded in 1926, and he was personally engaged with it until his death, making major gifts through the years. Celebrating their 90th anniversary in 2016, they announced that in the course of those nine decades they had given away in excess of $3 billion in grants. They still have a corpus equivalent to that amount and are active both in Flint and around the world doing grant-making focused on social and environmental justice.
Talk about magnanimous. Flint didn’t even name the Foundation after himself? Sounds like quite a guy. Well, we could go on for hours like this, but we’ve Crazy Calvin Cosgrove coming up with the traffic report. Over to you Calvin!