The 1924 Chrysler Six from the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Photo by Don Bain

Why you should visit the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Museum

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Walter P. Chrysler built an empire in the automotive field with only a high school diploma, a burning desire to discover how things work and a childhood reputation as a master marble shooter who played for keeps.

He was born April 2, 1875, in Wamego KS, son of Henry (Hank) and Anna Marie Chrysler. Hank worked for the Union Pacific railroad, which moved the family to the nearby railway town of Ellis during 1878.

Walter lived in the two-room house of his father until he was 22, though the size of the house grew along with the family and Hank’s earnings. Hank was the first man to drive a coal-powered locomotive through Kansas.

As a young boy, Walter milked his mother’s cows and had a thriving business selling milk to the railroad workers in the town. They got paid monthly, so Walter learned to take meticulous records so he could collect the monies owed him on payday. Milk was a nickel a quart then and Walter got two cents from everyone he delivered.

This was quickly learned during a visit to the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Museum in Ellis KS, yesterday, from a volunteer tour guide who declined to be identified. The P stands for Percy, making it easy to understand why Walter simply left it an undefined initial.

“He played marbles even after high school and was known to have taken a few paychecks from those who thought they could beat him,” the guide said.

The museum is set behind the quaint little house with the white picket fence that Walter helped add on to when he was 12. Inside you will find an amazing collection of photographs, personal effects and mementos, caricatures, newspaper articles, paintings, his desk, blueprints of the Chrysler Building, die-cast model cars, dealer signage, automotive renderings, clothing and even grand genealogies he made for his children claiming direct descent from Charlemagne, Vikings and Valkyries. It is a short drive off the Ellis exit from I-70.

He was also an avid baseball player as a young man – a second baseman who reportedly could run like the wind and catch lightning, too.
Walter got his first real job working for Union Pacific like his father – his job was to wipe down the locomotive engines, so when he was moved to sweeping floors, it was considered a promotion.

From there he started getting jobs in the railroad shops, developing some ability as a machinist. He even forged and crafted his own tools, but all the while he always carried the little notebook that had become a habit when was keeping track of quarts of milk.

Once he learned all he thought he could at one shop, he move on down the line to find a place where he could learn more. He developed his love for automobiles when at the Chicago Auto show in 1905 he saw a Della Locomotive.

The car cost $5,000 – an astronomical sum in those days, but Walter convinced a banker to loan him the money to buy it. Once he got his hands on it, he completely disassembled and put it back together to learn how it worked. Having figured that out, he got in, started it up and promptly drove through a neighbor’s fence. Supposedly he got better at driving with a little practice.


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