From the Mott Archives … Autos not Apples

An old black and white photo shows four men posing in front of the open doors of an office building.
Thomas B. Jeffery Company Plant, Kenosha, Wisconsin — Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.; Charles Stewart Mott; Charles W. Nash; and HH Bassett were part of a larger GM group on a train trip to Nebraska for the National Power Farming Demonstration.

Editor’s Note: In this, our 85th year, we thought it would be interesting and appropriate to take a look back at our ancestry even as we are planning for the future. This article, originally published in the September 1986 edition of the “Mott Exchange” and updated to include a few recent events, takes a brief look at one small part of the ongoing legacy left by our founder, Charles Stewart Mott, and his family.

What’s in a name?

Plenty — particularly if intertwined with it is the rich history of a community — even more if the name is among the community’s most famous and if the individual’s contributions are as apparent today as yesterday.

Such is the case with Charles Stewart Mott, who established the Mott Foundation in 1926 out of great love and concern for the welfare of his adopted community Flint, Michigan.

It’s a good thing Mr. Mott (who died in 1973) had a sense of humor since more than once he was asked about his applesauce business. Today there are still those who have the mistaken notion that the Mott Foundation sprouted from the apple orchard business. In fact, it was autos — not apples — from which Mr. Mott accumulated his wealth.

Charles Stewart Mott came from a long line of farmers — or “sodbusters” as he liked to call them. Throughout his childhood, his father, James Coon Mott, operated a family cider and vinegar business that eventually expanded to include a carbonating company that built beverage-carbonating machinery and imported carbonic gas from Germany.

At the turn of the century, C.S., then a young man, ran both that company and the Weston-Mott Company, which manufactured wheels, hubs and, later, axles. Eventually the Mott beverage company was sold to the Duffy Company, which retained the Mott name on its products, including applesauce and juice.

In 1906, Mr. Mott moved his Weston-Mott Company from Utica, New York, to Flint, Michigan, where the automobile industry was establishing a strong foothold. Two years later, General Motors acquired 49% of the Weston-Mott Company, with the remaining 51% acquired in 1913. Both transactions were in exchange for GM stock — making Mr. Mott the corporation’s largest single stockholder.

An oft-quoted comment from Mr. Mott — “What I am worth is what I do for other people” — helps explain his reason for creating the Mott Foundation. During the Foundation’s early years, from 1926 to 1935, it functioned as an extension of the philanthropic interests of the Mott family.

The Foundation’s scope began to expand in 1935. Frank Manley, ultimately Superintendent of Schools, convinced Mr. Mott to fund an after-hours school program in a few of the district’s facilities. That grant led to a partnership with the Flint Board of Education that spanned several decades. Indeed, from 1935 until the late 1960s, the foundation concentrated its grantmaking on programs run in partnership with the board of education.

The Flint public schools are still known today as the innovator of the “community education” concept, the use of school buildings after-hours for educational and recreational purposes. As the concept spread, Flint became the model program, attracting thousands of educators from the country. Through the years, hundreds of school districts both in this country and abroad have emulated the Flint community education program.

During the mid-to late-1960s, the Foundation entered the national grantmaking area, expanding the community education program across the country. The Foundation’s first international community education grant occurred in 1976.

For the Foundation, 1976 was truly a bench mark. Prior to that year, the bulk of the Foundation’s programming was undertaken in cooperation with the Flint Board of Education, Flint-related grantees or with the national community education field. Only a relatively few grants fell outside of those areas.

But beginning in 1976, the Foundation gradually expanded its national programming. And although interest and grantmaking in the community education field has continued, the Foundation today funds a number of programs with a national thrust, such as: at risk youth, community foundations, economic development and the environment.

In addition to the Foundation’s current scope, the Flint community bears ample evidence of the years of local support from Mr. Mott and his Foundation. In fact, it’s hard NOT to see the Mott name. Among the numerous buildings and institutions that bear the family name are: Mott Children’s Health Center, the Harding Mott University Center at the University of Michigan-Flint, Mott Community College and the Mott Foundation Building, Mott Lake, Mott Dam, Mott Park, Mott Farm and Mott Golf Course. Beyond Flint, one will stumble across the Mott name elsewhere in Michigan at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University in Detroit, the Charles Stewart Mott Academic Center at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan, and the C.S. Mott High School in Warren, Michigan.

During his lifetime, Mr. Mott saw his legacy grow through the Mott Foundation. But that was not the only charitable organization which spawned from his generosity.

Ruth Rawlings Mott, widow of Charles Stewart Mott, has established a legacy of her own in Flint. The Ruth Mott Foundation established its grantmaking programs in Flint, Michigan, in January 2001 to promote community vitality through the support of programs focused on arts, beautification and health.

At least five other philanthropic organizations have been established over the years by Mr. Mott’s children.