Chrysler, the Commodore Hotel, and the real story of the 1924 New York Auto Show

Joe Fields with Walter Chrysler

One of the more fun stories about Chrysler’s launch claims that the New York Auto Show refused to show the first Chrysler car during the 1924 show, so Chrysler showed it in the Commodore Hotel. The true story is described in this 1986 letter to Chrysler’s Glenn E. White by Michael J. Kollins. Kollins had started out as a service technician at Dodge Brothers, eventually rising to Manager of Chrysler’s Highland Park Service Center. While Kollins was not present at the 1924 New York Auto Show, he did later write a four-part series of books, Pioneers of the U.S. Automobile Industry.

Dear Glenn,

I am writing to you, since I believe that you can do something about correcting a myth that has been circulated about the introduction of the first Chrysler car in January, 1924. This myth has been repeated in some Chrysler Corporation publications including the Chrysler Corporation, the Story of an American Company. The myth was again repeated by John Davidson in the recent television show, “Super Stars and Classic Cars.”

According to the myth, the revolutionary new car bearing Chrysler's name had to be unveiled in the lobby of Mahattan's Hotel Commodore, because the management of the National Automobile Show would not let the untried innovation be displayed at the Grand Central Palace.

Joseph E. FieldsThe mythical account makes a fascinating story, but the facts are even more fascinating. With the intention of being constructively helpful, rather than critical or argumentative, respectfully submit these facts:

  1. The 24th National Automobile Show had to be staged at the 258th Field Artillery Armory, because the Grand Central Palace, until then so commodious, was no longer big enough to house the exhibits of 73 motor vehicle manufacturers, and manufacturers of automotive componenents and parts. The Armory, in the Bronx, was nine miles from the heart of Manhattan, but on opening night, almost nobody showed up.
  2. Chrysler had six Chrysler Six models displayed in space 34 in the Armory, along with the Maxwell exhibit, which also had two Chalmers models. Refer to page 769 of Automobile Topics dated January 5, 1924 and page 959 of Automobile Topics dated January 12, 1924. It is true that Joseph E. Fields, Sales Manager for Chrysler, had arranged with the Commodore Hotel management for the use of the lobby as exhibit space. I believe Chrysler also had six models displayed in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel.
  3. The Armory was only 30 minutes by subway train from Times Square, but on opening night, subway wrecks, the first in years, halted traffic out of mid-Manhattan. A blizzard and a sudden drop to sub-zero temperatures made matters worse.
  4. So while Samuel Miles, the show manager was wringing his hands and fretting in the Bronx, Walter P. Chrysler was happily parking people into the Commodore Hotel, where he was proudly displaying his Chrysler Car.
  5. The Chrysler exhibit along with the cooperation of Mayor Jimmie Walker, and the New York Police Department, made the introduction such a sensation, that during the year of 1924, 19,960 Chrysler cars were sold according to R.L. Polk & Co. records. (see page 917 Automobile Topics, January 12, 1924.)

The myth might have gotten its beginning from the first exhibit of the new 1920 Lafayette car, during the week of January 3-10. (See page 540 of Automobile Topics, December 13, 1919.) ...

Thanks to the National Automotive Historic Archive for preserving Mr. Kollins’ letter.

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