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charging Charles Wilson ran GM Charles Wilson known as "Engine Charlie" was surprised but not daunted when he took his first look at the conglomerate that President Eisenhower had picked him to run. Writing about Wilson's new job in January 1953, Automotive News Washington Correspondent William Ullman reported that the Defense Department was represented on 998 joint boards, councils, agencies, committees, subcommittees and panels. Wilson's previous job was president of General Motors which was pretty big on committees, too. Engine Charlie settled in and ran his new territory just as efficiently as he had directed the world's largest manufacturing corporation. Wilson was a hard worker who thought nothing of spending the night in his suite at GM headquarters or working Saturdays and holidays. In its Jan. 24, 1949, cover story, Time magazine described Wilson as a "reserved blue-eyed boss who thinks fast, talks slow and never wastes time pounding the desk." Wilson chain-smoked Chesterfields. After his death, a Sept. 26, 1961, article in The Detroit News said he often was oblivious to the cigarette ash that had fallen on his lapels. He drove his Cadillac to work from his fieldstone home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He and his wife had three sons and three daughters. Rather than the gourmet food he could afford, "his favorites are chipped beef or salted peanuts, or both, any time of the day," Time reported. Wilson enjoyed tennis and horseback riding. He also ice-skated until he fell and broke his hip in 1947, requiring him to manage GM from a hospital bed. That is where he mapped out the cost-of-living pay plan. Wilson was born in 1890 in Minerva, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. His father was a school principal; his mother was a teacher. When he was 14, the family moved to Pittsburgh. At 18, he was the youngest to receive a degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, a predecessor of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Wilson worked first for Westinghouse Electric Co. as a student apprentice. As a Westinghouse engineer during World War I, he was in charge of designing and developing radio generators for the Army and Navy. At 28, he left Westinghouse and went to Remy Electric Co., a GM subsidiary that later became Delco-Remy. At 38, Wilson became GM's youngest vice president, and a year later he was an executive vice president. During those years, he helped GM acquire Winton Engine Co. and Electro-Motive Co., of Cleveland, and Allison Engineering Co., of Indianapolis. Wilson also helped arrange the purchase of a minority interest in Bendix Aviation Corp. During William S. Knudsen's reign as GM president, Wilson was his right hand. war production in 1941, Wilson, then 50, became GM president. During World War II, Wilson moved GM from the world's largest manufacturer to a major producer of war materiel. According to The Detroit News, GM turned out $12 billion worth of armament in World War II. How much was a billion dollars in those days? Well, a hamburger was a dime or maybe 12 cents. A Coke cost a nickel. Wilson also had an ongoing interest in management-labor relations and presided over GM during the 113-day strike of 1945-46 and the history-making, five-year contract that GM and the UAW negotiated in 1950. Like Knudsen, Wilson had connections in the nation's capital. In postwar Washington, Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower, who were acquaintances, got to know each other better. When the former World War II commander was elected president in 1952, he invited Wilson to join his Cabinet as secretary of defense. A Dec. 7, 1952, Detroit Free Press article reported that Wilson accepted Eisenhower's offer by saying, "I'm going to give the job quite a whirl." He took the job even though it involved a $577,500 pay cut. Wilson later caught grief from Senate critics when he initially did not want to give up his 39,477 shares of GM stock, said to have been worth about $2 million. Wilson was secretary of defense until 1957, when he asked to leave. A widely quoted misquote in American politics came from one of Wilson's comments during congressional hearings on his Cabinet nomination. Newspeople who didn't listen very well, or perhaps wanted to hype up the story, quoted Wilson as saying, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Wilson actually said, "For years, I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa." Wilson spent his retirement at his Bloomfield Hills home and on his 4,000-acre Louisiana plantation, where he died in 1961 at age 71. He was working to become "a knowledgeable cattle breeder and raiser of prize-winning cattle," said The Detroit News. Detroit and Michigan leaders mourned Wilson's passing. Said the News: "His dedication to public service as a Cabinet member and as a leader in many civic undertakings was a splendid example of citizen concern."

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