History and Founder

Who We Are » History and Founder

Charles Stewart Mott stands with his car in front of General Motors headquarters in Detroit.
Charles Stewart Mott stands in front of General Motors headquarters in Detroit.

Our History

Nearly a century ago, Charles Stewart (C.S.) Mott established the Foundation that bears his name in response to his deep concern about the welfare of Flint and an abiding affection for his adopted community. Initially, the Foundation served as a vehicle for fulfilling the Mott family’s charitable interests. It began to evolve in 1935, when Mr. Mott teamed with local educator Frank Manley to create community schools in Flint. Their innovative approach to using schools to meet neighborhood needs would become a national model. That project also served as a platform for the Foundation to expand international grantmaking and become a global force for positive change in the areas of education, civil society and the environment.

Four members of the Mott family have directed Foundation operations: C.S. Mott; his son C.S. Harding Mott; William S. White, Harding Mott’s son-in-law; and Ridgway White, great-grandson of C.S. Mott. The Foundation that Mr. Mott launched in 1926 with a $320,000 endowment had approximately $4.2 billion in assets at the end of 2021, offices in three countries, and a legacy of working with local organizations to strengthen communities around the world. From our founding through 2021, the Foundation awarded grants totaling approximately $3.7 billion to organizations in 72 countries.

President C.S. Harding Mott (center), Vice President-Secretary William S. White (right) and Vice President-Program Administration Homer E. Dowdy (left) look at a map.
1974 was a year of concerted planning and management restructuring for President C.S. Harding Mott (center), Vice President-Secretary William S. White (right) and Vice President-Program Administration Homer E. Dowdy (left).

Our Founder

C.S. Mott (1875-1973) was an engineer, entrepreneur, public servant and philanthropist who dedicated much of his life, and wealth, to helping others. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he worked for his family’s Mott Beverage Co. after earning an engineering degree at the Stevens Institute of Technology. After his father died, he took control of the family’s wire-wheel company — located in Utica, New York — and made it profitable by manufacturing axles. He was invited in 1906 to move his Weston-Mott Company to Flint, Michigan, to produce wire wheels and axles for the emerging automobile industry. When W.C. “Billy” Durant organized the General Motors Corporation (GM) in Flint, in 1908, Mr. Mott sold 49% of his company to GM in exchange for stock. In 1913, he exchanged the remaining 51% of Weston-Mott stock for GM stock and became a company director. He served on GM’s board of directors from 1913 to 1973, a period in which the company became the world’s largest automaker.

A smiling young boy chats with Charles Stewart Mott.
Jack Grenier chats with C.S. Mott.

Mr. Mott’s GM shares made him a wealthy man, and he parlayed his fortune into a life of public service and philanthropy. He served three terms as mayor of Flint, during which time he led efforts to pave the city’s dirt roads and build a modern sewer system. In 1926, he established the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for philanthropic, charitable and educational purposes. The Foundation affirmed Mr. Mott’s vision of a world in which every person was in partnership with the rest of the human race, and where each individual’s quality of life is connected to the well-being of the community — locally and globally. Mr. Mott’s six children and his fourth wife, Ruth, also established charitable foundations. Mr. Mott was the last survivor among a group of pioneering automotive titans who changed the course of history. His benevolence continues to benefit individuals and communities around the world.

Read a free text version of Foundation for Living.