George Walter Mason (March 121891 - October 91954) was an American industrialist. During his career Mason served as the Chairman and CEO of the Kelvinator Corporation (1928-1937), Chairman and CEO of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation (1937-1954), and Chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation (1954).
George W. Mason was born in Valley City, North Dakota. Mason received his education at the University of Michigan where he designed a specific course for engineering students that combined three years of engineering and a final year in business administration.
Mason had worked for local garages in his youth and upon receiving his degree from Michigan, he accepted a position with Studebaker. Mason changed employers several times before entering military service during World War I. In 1921, Mason secured a position with Walter P. Chrysler at Maxwell-Chalmers, which Chrysler had reorganized and would use to develop Chrysler brand automobiles.
From Maxwell-Chalmers, Mason went to Copeland Products of Detroit in 1926 before becoming the President of the Kelvinator Corporation, a leader in the emerging electric refrigeration industry. Under Mason, Kelvinator quadrupled its profits and became second only to General Motors Frigidaire product line in home refrigeration sales despite the effects of the Great Depression.
When Charles Nash, founder of Nash Motors began looking for his successor, he turned to Mason upon the recommendation of Walter Chrysler. Mason initially rebuffed Nash’s offer, however when Nash asked what it would take to bring Mason over to Nash, Mason stated that he would not take the position if Kelvinator was not included in the deal. Nash saw merit in this idea; General Motors owned Frigidaire, BorgWarner owned Norge Appliance, and Chrysler operated its own air conditioning division, Airtemp. Nash and Mason came to terms and the deal announced in November 1936. The two firms merged to form Nash-Kelvinator Corporation with Mason as its CEO. By 1940, Mason continued to grow Kelvinator’s market share and returned Nash to profitable status.
Following World War II, Mason began exploring the possibilities of envelope bodies for full-size cars at the behest of Nash’s Chief of engineering, Nils Erik Wahlberg. The two moved ahead with an aerodynamic body design for the 1949 Nash that would extend the body of the car over cars front wheels. The design was introduced as the Airflyte, and enshrouded front wheels remained a Nash hallmark until 1957.
Mason, it should be noted, was a large and gregarious man, standing well more than six feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds. Despite his large physical size, he was fascinated with small cars, especially the concept of a small, inexpensive car and how one would fit into Nash’s plans for future development. As a result, Nash introduced three compact car lines:
However, General Motors and Ford Motor Company were locked in a battle for market supremacy that started in 1945 when Ford's new president, Henry Ford II, had a burning desire to make his company number one again. By 1953, all of the independent automobile manufactures were also feeling the after effects of Henry Ford’s plan to dump tens of thousands of vehicles into the market at discounted prices to try and wrestle the top automotive manufacturing title from GM. General Motors responded by doing the same. With the market flooded by inexpensive cars, Studebaker, Packard, Willys, Hudson, Kaiser Motors, and Nash were all unable to sell vehicles at loss-leader prices to keep up with Ford and GM.
Mason eventually banded together Nash and the Hudson Motor Car Company to benefit from the varieties of strength that each brought to the table. While formal and informal merger talks were held between Nash and the various independents, the only merger that Mason actually entered into was with the aforementioned Hudson, which occurred in the early months of 1954 to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). Similar mergers between Willys and Kaiser, Studebaker and Packard also happened between 1953 and 1954.
Within months of the closure of the deal, George Mason died at age 63 of acute pancreatitis and pneumonia in Detroit, Michigan. Mason's protégé, AMC Vice President George W. Romney, succeeded Mason as Chairman and CEO. One of Romney's first acts was to stop rumors that there were additional merger talks between AMC and Studebaker-Packard Corporation or any automakers. According to Mason's obituary in Time Magazine, had AMC and Studebaker-Packard joined, it would have resulted in the second largest automaker in the world, behind General Motors.
Following his death it was disclosed that Mason, a former President of Ducks Unlimited, had left a gift to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources consisting of land with of shoreline along the Au Sable River. The gift was contingent that the area be used as a permanent game preserve, that no part shall ever be sold by the state, and that no camping be allowed in the area for 25 years. The State of Michigan has continued to uphold the no camping restriction within the Mason Tract. In accordance with Mr. Mason's wishes, the tract remains free of all development with the exception for a simple log chapel that was constructed on the property by the Mason Family in 1960.