Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1973: The Tipping Point for Flint?

It's hard to pinpoint the year that Flint reached the point of no return, the juncture when the city's post-war prosperity ended for good. There's no definitive answer. But the tipping point may have been 1973, when I was a seven-year-old student at Saint Michael’s on the edge of downtown. That’s the year C. S. Mott died at the ripe old age of ninety-seven. His foundation would live on, continuing to generously fund local initiatives and projects around the world, but it was hard to imagine the Vehicle City without the paternalistic guidance of "Mr. Flint." It was also the year when the OPEC oil embargo caused a spike in gas prices, followed by fuel shortages and lines at service stations. GM was near peak employment in the Flint area, with roughly eighty thousand workers at the time, but the crisis triggered a round of layoffs, a trend that would plague the city for decades as “Generous Motors” abandoned its birthplace in search of cheaper labor in right-to-work states and foreign countries. It's also the year that the Durant Hotel, named after G.M.'s flamboyant founder, closed its doors. Flint would never be the same.

15 comments:

  1. It was around this time that the St. John Street neighborhood was closed as was Old Northern. I think I-475 construction occurred around this time too demolishing entire neighborhoods.


    The tipping point would probably be '81/'82 when unemployment hit upwards of 25%

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  2. An anecdote about Mr. Mott, from my dad who had occasion to meet him in business contexts in the post-WWII years:

    His around-town car was a Corvair. He had a lot of acquaintances, and interacted regularly with them in his business activities. Apparently he was negatively impressed at some point by a lawsuit against a driver by a passenger seeking a large damage judgement, after the driver's car was involved in a minor traffic accident.

    So, he had the passenger and rear seats removed from the Corvair and replaced with practical wood transport-shelves for his briefcase and other business accoutrements...thus providing him with a ready-made reason why he couldn't give someone a lift across town.

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  3. I agree that Flint was never the same after Mr. Mott died, and I had wondered about that even before he died. I used to park in the lot next to the entrance to Applewood back in 1971 when going to classes in the Mott Memorial Building. I figured it was pretty safe there. The only other close encounter was when we sat in the Loge at Whiting during a ceremony where Mr. Mott was speaking. The front row was roped off an we wondered why until Mr. Mott and his entourage arrived and sat there.

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  4. 1973 was also when white flight was in full gear.
    General Motors stopped hiring hourly workers about 1977.
    It's been just swell ever since.

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    1. By 1970, GM was hiring blue collar workers the likes of people such as Michael Moore. If you talked to Korean War or WWII vets who worked in the shops their whole lives, they will tell you about the quality of the work of that generation. Those folks who worked there in the 40s, and 50 and early 60s worked their asses off.

      What an environment, you had GM white collar workers with absolutely no business foresight and blue collar workers who wanted to be paid top dollar for doing nothing. What a great combination.

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  5. I think '73 was a little too early. Buick,Chevy Truck,Ac,And even Fisher body were all hiring hundreds of workers per week. Young folks,lots of Viet Nam vets. Pickup trucks, Blazers,Suburbans, Le Sabres were peaking or just starting to ramp up. I think the Tipping Point was in 1979 or 1980..... oil embargo,interest rates at 18 %, union muscle and demands off the charts.....just a whole lot of retrenching.Maybe even '82.

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  6. I am a life-long Genesee County resident. I was born and lived in Flint until I was ready to enter high school. My parents refused to send me to a Flint high school, so we, like many of my generation, moved to the suburbs. (This was 1967.) I have many wonderful memories of growing up in Flint.
    I agree that the tipping point came in the early 80's. In addition to the points made in the previous post, this was the time when GM was turning out JUNK! Like my parents (who had no affiliation with GM), and my grandparents (who did), I always bought GM cars. In '83 I was ready to move up to a Buick. Four years later, with just 32,000 miles on the odometer and 2 payments left, the engine blew up. My local dealer could do nothing to help-the car only had a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty. I couldn't afford to buy another car, especially since this one was worth next to nothing. I was given the option to take the case to arbitration and was without a car for six months. I won the case, and GM was ordered to repair the car. They put in a re-built engine and three months later the transmission gave out. I was urged to dump the piece of junk and look at Hondas. I bought an Accord, that I drove for 10 years and then sold for $3200 with 130,000 miles on it.
    This was the beginning of GM's loss of market share, directly attributable to the poor quality of their product compared to the foreign competition. I heard all my life, "As General Motors goes, there goes Flint."

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  7. June 1979 was the tipping point. The second oil shock had just hit and GM's market share would begin to slide from over 50% to now(17%?) still has not stopped. The carnage of lost jobs and cities like Flint,Pontiac,Saginaw began in earnest and heading south to Alabama,Georgia,Tennessee,etc in factories run by Honda,Toyota,Hyundai, and Kia.

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  8. Sh*t... you're right. Sh*t had turned to sh*t when I was just six years old. Sh*t, I thought sh*t was sweet then.

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  9. I think your date is about right on Gordy. I remember the old unemployment office on North street when you had to expect at least an 8 hour wait back in 1972. The line was usually at least three times around the building with lines that were like a maze inside. GOOD TIMES!

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  10. I agree with "Anonymous" that the tipping point came around mid '79. GM was on a massive hiring push from late '76 to early '79. I was part of that as a young 20 year old fresh out of Mott Community College and was soon hired at the old "Chevy in the Hole" in July '77. After the second oil embargo in '79, GM began a series of layoffs that never really stopped. I was fortunate enough to stick around GM and retire after 35 years by getting picked up at Fisher Body in Lansing.

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  11. You've got the date right but the cause all wrong. The summer of 1973 was when I left Flint!
    That's a picture of Billy Durant, by the way, not CS Mott with the post.

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  12. I was a 2nd or 3rd grade student at Pierce Elementary when Mr. Mott died. I clearly remember that we had a school wide 1 minute of silence in honor of Charles Stewart Mott on the day of his funeral. They turned the lights off in the classrooms and we all stood up and (inexplicably,now that I consider it) faced the flag. No one explained who Mr. Mott was, but I seem to recall knowing why he was important in Flint.

    Funny, I don't recall the school honoring any other public figures this way in all my years in Flint Schools.

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  13. That photo is of Billy Durant, the creator of General Motors, who died in 1947.

    Concerning Mr. Mott - in his later years he drove a Corvair. Whenever he needed any maintenance on it he drove it to the Chevrolet Flint Assembly Plant at Van Slyke and Atherton to be worked on in the company car garage (located between the front office building and the factory). I worked at that plant during the summer of 1968 and Mr. Mott's visits were a common topic of conversation. Funny, the garage supervisor always tore up the bill for work on Mr. Mott's Corvair. Perhaps Mr. Mott's being on the GM board of directors had something to do with that.

    I always thought that Flint's point of no return was shortly before July 23, 1979. That is when I quit my job in Plant Engineering at Chevrolet Flint Assembly and moved to Waterloo, Iowa to work as an environmental engineer for John Deere. I've never had any regrets for leaving Flint at that time.

    George E. Wright
    Encinitas, California

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  14. Just to clarify, I know the original photo for this post was Billy Durant, not C.S. Mott. (Is there anyone from Flint over the age of 40 who can't differentiate Billy from C.S.?) Billy was there to represent the old, prosperous Flint. But I swapped him out with a shot of Mott to avoid confusion.

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