Ransom E. Olds

On June 3, 1864 one of the early pioneers of the American automotive industry was born. His name represented innovation in decades to come. Ransom Eli Olds founded the Oldsmobile and REO brands, using his talents to build his first steam car in 1894, followed by his first gasoline powered car two years later.

Olds is also considered among the brilliant minds which developed the fundamental concepts of the assembly line and mass production. Oldsmobile Curved Dash, developed in 1901, was the first mass-produced vehicle.

Ransom Eli Olds was the son of Pliny Fiske Olds and Sarah Whipple Olds. As a young boy he worked in his father's machine workshop, learning the way steam engines work and methods for operating them. He was interested in everything related to power - steam, gasoline and electricity were his prime focus.

Olds used his knowledge and skills to create experimental steam vehicle, and later gasoline-powered vehicle. These would become first automobiles in Lansing, Michigan, where he finally settled with Metta Ursula Woodward.

It was on August 21, 1897 when he founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, with the financial support of wealthy lumber magnate Samuel L. Smith. The company managed to produce only four vehicles in the first year, since Olds wanted to build one carriage in as nearly perfect a manner as possible. In 1899, the company moved to Detroit, opening the Olds Motor Works on West Jefferson Avenue.

Samuel Smith became the President while Olds became vice president and general manager of the new company. In 1901, 425 Curved Dash Oldsmobile Runabouts were produced, each priced at $650. The best way to sell them was to allow potential buyers to test them, so vehicles were driven on Belle Isle and tested on the local mounds of dirt.

Realizing the potential behind the assembly line in the automotive industry, Ransom E. Olds managed to increase the production greatly in rather short amount of time. The impressive numbers showed 2,500 cars produced in 1902, while in 1904 around 5,500 vehicles were sold.

The Curved Dash Oldsmobile was built with a 66-inch wheel-base and weighed 650 pounds. Powered by a one-cylinder, seven-horse power engine this engineering marvel captured the attention of the entire automotive industry. Even the fire which destroyed his factory at one point couldn't stop its success. For a short while it was the best-selling model on the American market. With success, new problems emerged. Frederic L. Smith, son of Olds partner and company president came in the business with a different vision for the future.

The two argued on many issues, but the final straw were plans to substitute a large touring car for the popular Oldsmobile. Olds was removed from his positions and decided to form another company pursuing his own goals. The REO Motor Car Company was inspired from the initials of his name as an acronym. Ransom E. Olds served as company president until 1925 and later became the chairman.

In only three years he had built Reo into one of the industry's leaders. Unfortunately, after 1908 the company began losing the market share to the competition. By 1915, automobile production became his side interest, which Olds used to finance other business activities. He formed the Ideal Power Lawn Mower Company and devoted his attention to promotion of a lawn mower he had invented. He was also involved in strong land speculation deals in Florida.

The Olds Motor Works was bought by General Motors in 1908, where it became one of the divisions. In 2004, the Oldsmobile brand was discontinued, after 96 years of continuous production.

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