Charles Stewart Mott (1875 - 1973)
Charles Stewart Mott is said to be a man of vision who led with his heart. He is most notably known for the established the C.S. Mott Foundation in 1926, as a response to his deep concern about the welfare of Flint, Michigan, as well as his abiding affection for his adopted community.
An automotive pioneer, Mr. Mott was an original partner in the creation of the General Motors Corporation, founded in Flint in 1908. As one of the city's leading industrialists, Mr. Mott was elected mayor, serving three terms (1912–13, 1918) during periods of overwhelming and turbulent growth in the city. As mayor he was responsible for instituting fair property assessments, orderly accounting audits, health and safety ordinances, building codes and a house numbering system.
As a private citizen, Mr. Mott founded a camp, as well as medical and dental clinics for Flint's children, and helped establish a number of nonprofit organizations that still exist today, including the Whaley Children's Center, the Boy Scouts and the YMCA.
A profoundly practical individual, Mr. Mott created C.S. Mott Foundation as an organized method of responding to the increasing needs of Flint's growing population. In 1935, in partnership with the Flint Community Schools, the Foundation became a major factor in the life of the city through school-based educational and recreational activities. This partnership ultimately developed into a nationwide community education movement.
From its earliest origins, the Foundation's major concern has been the well-being of communities and all that they encompass individuals, families, neighborhoods and civic organizations. Today, this interest continues to play out through grantmaking in Flint as well as communities far beyond the Foundation's home city.
[Adapted from Mott Foundation, Mott.org]
History and Legacy of Charles Stewart Mott's
Charles Stewart Mott was born in 1875 in Newark, New Jersey. While his grandfather and uncle owned apple cider and vinegar companies in New York and New Jersey (from 1865 to 1900), Mott was more interested in mechanics than apples. He attended Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, and played on their football team. In 1894, C. S. Mott joined the New York Naval Militia, and spent two years in Europe studying the science of fermentation (useful in the apple business). He subsequently returned to Stevens Institute to complete a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1897.
In 1895, C. S. Mott’s father bought a carbonation company that supplied his cider and vinegar business that he gave to C. S. Mott in an effort to bring him into the family trade. However, in that same year, Mott and his brother bought a bicycle wheel company, since bicycles were extremely popular in the 1890s. The company was renamed Weston-Mott and moved to Utica, New York. In 1898, C. S. Mott joined the U.S. Navy one day after the United States declared war on Spain, serving as gunner’s mate first class on the U.S.S. Yankee. Upon returning home, he and his fellow sailors were welcomed as heroes and, it was around this time, he met his future wife, Miss Ethel Harding of New York City.
In 1900, on C. S. Mott’s 24th birthday, his father, John Mott died. C. S. Mott then assumed the position of superintendent of the wheel-company. When bicycle wheel sales started declining, Mott shifted to making wheels and axles for the thriving automobile industry. At the age of 25, he married Ethel Harding who was an Art student studying in New York. The couple had three children, Aimee (born 1902), Elsa Beatrice (born 1904), and Charles Stewart Harding Mott, called Harding (born 1906).
C. S. Mott was fascinated with mechanics and loved automobiles. The first car he owned was a Remington, in 1901, built in Utica, New York. Not surprisingly, the wire wheels were made by Weston-Mott. Mott became the first president of the Automobile Club of Utica, New York on October 15, 1901. Following this in 1902, he helped to establish the American Automobile Association (known today as AAA or “triple A”.
C. S. Mott’s two daughters Aimee and Elsa, and son Harding served as original trustees of the C. S. Mott Foundation. Harding served the foundation from 1926, becoming President in 1965, and continued to serve until his death in 1989. At this time, the C. S. Mott Foundation was the 12th largest philanthropic foundation in the nation.
After receiving an invitation from Buick’s William Crapo “Billy” Durant to open a branch factory in Flint, Michigan, in 1905, C. S. Mott chose to move the entire company and his family to Flint. He was just 30 years old and did not want to supervise two plants far apart from each other. To this end, Weston-Mott was making wheels and axles in Flint by the end of 1906.
In 1908, even though Billy Durant invited Weston-Mott to become part of a new automotive holding company called General Motors or GM, C. S. Mott declined since he was selling his axles to many automakers. Weston-Mott was the largest axle manufacturer in the world at this time. Nonetheless, C. S. Mott eventually sold 49% of Weston-Mott’s stock to GM.
C. S. Mott was elected mayor of Flint in 1912, 1913 and 1918. He had campaigned under the Independent Citizen’s Party. While Flint’s infrastructure could accommodate about 10,000 people, the accelerated growth of the auto industry drew about 40,000 residents. C. S. Mott upgraded the sewer system, built a separate storm water system, and improved the streets, sidewalks and lighting in Flint.
By 1913, GM was buying most of Weston-Mott’s output when Mott finally decided to sell the company, exchanging his remaining Weston-Mott stock for GM stock. He became a member of GM’s Board of Directors and served for 60 years. Respected for his methodical and problem-solving approach to business, Mott became Vice-President of GM in 1916, remaining in the position until 1937.
From 1915 to 1916, Mott bought land within the city limits of Flint for a home and gentleman’s farm which he named Applewood in honor of the family’s apple heritage, and there was also an apple orchard on the property. The farm was designed for their “active and healthy lives, supplying vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, and dairy.” Its beauty and added recreation included, swimming, horse riding, croquet and other games. Mott also wished to be self-sufficient and insisted that the family and staff eat Applewood’s meat and produce before buying elsewhere. During the depressions, extra food was sold or given away.
C. S. Mott again became mayor of Flint in 1918, amidst the disruptions caused by World War I. In April, 1917, the auto plants in Flint had retooled for war production. The Flint Labor News gave Mott a front page editorial highlighting the donation of his $2500 salary to the health department. He matched this to provide dental care to the children of Flint. He resigned as Flint’s mayor when he was called to active duty as a Major.
In 1924, sadly, C. S. Mott lost his wife Ethel. Following her death, C. S. Mott remarried twice during his lifetime, with his third marriage to Ruth Mott being a good partnership for community work in Flint. Ruth became a Mott Foundation trustee (1944 to 1975), and a philanthropist known for her friendliness, egalitarianism and sense of humor. The couple had three children, Susan Elizabeth (born 1936), Stewart Rawlings (born 1937), and Maryanne (born 1942).
In 1926, C. S. Mott established the foundation to help improve education and health care in Flint. Before this, Mott had given of his time, money and land to many local projects. It was in 1935 that Frank Manley of the Flint Public Schools proposed to Mott to use school buildings after hours to host classes and recreation for children and adults. The Community Education program that resulted was supported by the C. S. Mott Foundation, and became a national model for “expanding the role of schools as community hubs.”
In 1939, through C. S. Mott’s personal involvement and support from the Mott Foundation, the Mott Children’s Health Center was opened in Flint. Mott discovered that the local medical facilities were inadequate, and that local treatment would save money, reduce stress and improve care. Later on, in 1965, C. S. Mott donated $6.5 million to build a children’s hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was opened in 1969 treating 3,000 children in its first year, and ranks among the nation’s top pediatric hospitals today.
Before World War II, in 1941, Mott joined, the Office of Production Management formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and organized a Flint War Chest Board to finance defense activities. He was appointed to the Flint Civilian Defense Council (organized and trained civil defense volunteers).
In 1950, C. S. Mott donated one million dollars worth of land and funds to develop Flint Junior College into a four-year institution (first home of University of Michigan-Flint that began in 1952). In addition, in 1951, he donated part of Applewood for the Flint Cultural Center and a new campus (now known as Mott Community College). He said, “I used to look out my front window and see six cows, now I look out and see 7,000 students. I think I made a very good exchange.”
It was in 1957 that Flint became a model of Community Education (this concept has been revised) and held its first workshop. It was organized by the Michigan State Department of Public Instruction, the Flint Board of Education, and the C. S. Mott Foundation.
C. S. Mott arranged his final gift of $42 million of his $43.3 million estate to the Mott Foundation, one year before his passing. He passed away in 1973. His friend Clarence Young said of him, “Charles Stewart Mott shall be remembered well. While wheels shall turn on axles, and while men shall honor great endeavor shared with all.”
[Adapted from the History of Mott Foundation, Mott.org]