Ransom Eli Olds
– August 26
) was a pioneer of the American automotive industry
, for whom both the
brands were named. He claimed to
have built his first steam car
as early as
1894, and his first gasoline powered car in 1896.
born in Geneva,
Ohio, the youngest son of blacksmith and pattern-maker
Pliny Fiske Olds and his wife Sarah Whipple Olds.
parents moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio, when Olds was still a boy. He eventually settled
Michigan, where he
married Metta Ursula Woodward on June 5,
the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in
Michigan, on August 21, 1897.
company was bought by a copper and lumber magnate named Samuel
L. Smith in 1899 and renamed Olds Motor Works.
new company was relocated from Lansing to Detroit. Smith became
President while Olds became vice president and general
In 1901 Olds designed the Curved
Oldsmobile which sold for $650.00. It was this car, rather
than Henry Ford
's Model T
, that was the first mass-produced,
low-priced American motor vehicle. Although the factory was
destroyed by fire that year, the company still sold over 600 models
of the Curved Dash. In 1904 sales were up to 5000 units.
As Smith's son, Frederick, came into the business, he and Olds
clashed frequently until Fred Smith removed Olds from the position
of vice president and general manager in 1904 and Olds left his
company. He went on to form the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company. Its
name was quickly changed to REO
Motor Car Company
to avoid a lawsuit from the Olds Motor Works.
The name REO came from the initials of his name as an acronym
. Olds served as president (until 1925) and
later chairman of REO.
The Olds Motor Works was bought by General Motors
in 1908. The
Oldsmobile brand, after a production run of 107 years, was
discontinued by General Motors in 2004.
Olds was the first person to use the assembly line in the
automotive industry, Henry Ford
after him. This new approach to putting together automobiles
enabled him to more than quintuple his factory’s output, from 425
cars in 1901 to 2,500 in 1902.
Olds in the Olds Pirate racing car in 1896 or 1897
Olds was also famous for his auto racing
on the beaches of Florida at
Ormond and Daytona
. He had the first timed run on the beach in
a solo run some time between 1894 and 1897. In 1896 or 1897, rich
automobile pioneers Olds and Alexander
) staged an unofficial event; Winton beat Olds
by only 0.20 seconds.
Olds purchased 37,541 acres (152 km²) of land by the northern part
Bay in Florida and
developed the area into what is now the city of Oldsmar.
Other Lansing businesses
In 1906, Olds organized the Capital National Bank, later called
Lansing National Bank, and Michigan National Bank
. Olds was also
involved in the organization of the Michigan Screw Company and
Atlas Drop Forge Company, all located in Lansing, Michigan.
Olds was the primary financier of the Olds Tower. When completed in
1931 it was the tallest office building in Lansing, and retains
that distinction today. Located at 124 West Allegan Street, the
building is now called the Boji
Olds was also involved in the Hotel Olds located at 111 South
Capitol Avenue in Lansing. Today this is known as the George W. Romney
Building, where the office of the
Governor of Michigan is located.
Olds was a Republican
, and served as a
delegate from Michigan's 6th District to the 1908 Republican National
, which nominated William Howard Taft
In the early 1900s, Olds built an elaborate Queen Anne-style
South Washington Avenue in Lansing. Among the home's many
technological innovations was a turntable
in the garage which allowed Olds to
pull in at night and leave again the next morning without driving
in reverse. The mansion was demolished in 1972 to make way for
, which ironically was
then named for Olds himself. He had another house in Ann Arbor,
Michigan, which is still standing, and is open to the public
- Berger, Michael L. (2001). The Automobile in American
History and Culture: A Reference Guide, p. 40. Greenwood
Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN 0313245584.
- Dunbar, Willis F., and May, George S. (1995). Michigan: A
History of the Wolverine State (3rd ed.), p. 424. Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN
- 1880 Census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, page