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Timeline - History of automaking in Kenosha

Timeline - History of automaking in Kenosha


Here is a list of some of the major developments in automobile history in Kenosha:

1900 — A bicycle maker from Chicago, Thomas Jeffrey, buys a factory from the Sterling Bicycle Company. He sees little future in making bicycles and decides to act on his automobile design experiments.

1902 — Jeffrey produces the Rambler, the second mass-assembly auto made, a year after Oldsmobile and a year ahead of Ford. Sales in 1902 were 1,500 vehicles, a sixth of the automobiles sold in the United States.

1910 — Jeffrey dies, and his son Charles takes over as head of the company.

1915 — There are more than 450 automakers in the United States, and Kenosha’s Thomas B. Jeffrey Co. is easily in the top 10. Sales peaked in 1914 at 13,513 vehicles.

1916 — The head of General Motors, Charles Nash, buys the company for $5 million and renames it Nash Motors.

1933 — Emboldened by federal law allowing workers the right to organize, Nash Motors workers form an American Federation of Labor affiliate. Nash says he’d throw the keys to the lakeside plant in Lake Michigan before he would bargain with a union. He eventually changes his mind, under pressure from federal officials.

1935 — Nash workers join the United Auto Workers union, which forms in Detroit in May.

1937 — Nash Motors merges with appliance producer Kelvinator.

1942 to 1945 — Nash Motors makes aircraft engines in Kenosha for the U.S. military in World War II.

1946 — Nash Motors has a 9 percent market share, by U.S. auto sales.

1954 — Nash-Kelvinator merges with Hudson Motor Co and creates American Motors Corp (AMC).

1954 to 1962 — AMC is headed by George Romney, later Michigan governor and failed 1968 Republican presidential candidate. Romney’s focus on small, efficient cars, led by the reintroduction of the Rambler, brings limited success. In 1957, AMC’s market share is only 2 percent.

1963 — The AMC Rambler is named “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend magazine.

1960s — AMC is at its height in terms of production, making about a half a million cars a year, and employing 16,000 or more workers. But market share never reaches the company goal of 3.7 percent of the U.S. market.

1969 — AMC buys Jeep Corp. from Kaiser Motors.

1970 — AMC introduces the Gremlin, billed as the first U.S.-made subcompact.

1970s — AMC models include Ambassador, Matador, Javelin, AMX, Hornet and Gremlin. Profits reach $44.5 million in 1973, the best since 1960. But a costly three-week strike in 1974 means AMC lost revenue in 1975, a year when the U.S. auto industry as a whole experienced record profits.

1979 — French automaker Renault bails out the sagging AMC and takes over much of the management of AMC.

1983 — The Renault Alliance made at the two Kenosha auto assembly plants wins the “Car of the Year” award. But after a couple of years, the model is panned by consumers and critics as among the worst-performing vehicles around.

1987 — Chrysler, led by CEO Lee Iacocca, buys AMC, this time bailing out Renault.

1987 — Iacocca and Chrysler announce the shutdown of auto assembly in Kenosha.

December 1988 — Automobile assembly in Kenosha ends after almost 90 years. The lakeside plant shuts entirely. Engine assembly keeps a plant a mile inland in operation. It becomes known as the Kenosha Engine Plant.

1989 to 2009 — The Kenosha Engine Plant continues to make engines for Chrysler, but activity dwindles.

1998 — Germany’s Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merge to form DaimlerChrysler AG.

2007 — Daimler AG agrees to sell 80.1 percent of Chrysler to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which brings in new management.

2009 — Chrysler goes into bankruptcy protection, and announces plant closings that include Kenosha. Italy’s Fiat SpA FIA.MI, takes over management control of Chrysler as it emerges as a new company — Chrysler Group LLC. The Kenosha plant remains owned by the former Chrysler, known as “OldCarco.”

2009 — Kenosha city officials, Wisconsin state officials and union leaders piece together a task force to keep manufacturing in town. The effort, led by Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman, seeks to raise up to $30 million in federal and state funds to clean up the Kenosha plant to remove environmental liability for a new owner. The city wants OldCarco to give it the plant. Then it would likely lease the plant for $1 a year, and offer tax incentives.

2010 — The engine plant closes, putting 500 out of work and ending the final vestiges of automaking in Kenosha.

Sources: Interviews and “Kenosha — A History of Our Town” by Don Jensen. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Martin Golan)


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