John North Willys of the Willys-Overland Corporation became the first U

Monday 17th March 1930

John North Willys of the Willys-Overland Corporation became the first U. S. ambassador to Poland. Willys had rescued the ailing Overland firm from its woeful production of 465 cars in 1908. By 1916, Willys-Overland produced over 140,000 cars per year. Willys subsequently left the day-to-day operations of the company, moving his personal offices to New York in order to pursue work related to World War I. During his absence, mismanagement nearly buried the company he had worked so hard to build up. Massive strikes, bloated inventories, and other troubles had cost Willys-Overland dearly. By 1920, the company was $46 million in debt. The briefly retired Walter Chrysler was called on to rework the company’s daily operations, and in no time at all, he had cut the debt by nearly two-thirds to $18 million. Chrysler claimed, however, that without the release of a new model of automobile, the debt would decrease no further. Willys, who remained president of Willys-Overland, disagreed. He maintained that through the improvement of the existing models, the company could regain its original profit margins. Chrysler left. Continuing to pursue his political interests, Willys became the U.S. ambassador to Poland on this day in 1930. Eight years later Poland would be absorbed into the Third Reich. Three years after that, in 1941, Willys-Overland began mass production of the Willys Jeep, the “General Purpose” vehicle of the U.S. Army. In 1944, Willys’ political and manufacturing legacies merged symbolically as Willys Jeeps carried U.S. troops across liberated Poland.

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