Little Bits of History

Oldsmobile

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 29, 2014
Ransom E Olds

Ransom E Olds

April 29, 2004: Oldsmobile goes out of business. The company was founded by Ransom E Olds in 1897. He was born in Geneva, Ohio in 1864 and the family moved to Cleveland when he was still a child. He moved to Lansing, Michigan and married Metta Ursula Woodward in 1889. He claimed to have built his first steam-powered car in 1894 and his first gasoline-powered car in 1896. He is credited with the concept of the modern assembly line which was used to build the first mass-produced car, the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, which came out in 1901. Between 1901 and 07 about 19,000 of the cars were built using the line and interchangeable parts. It sold for about $650 ($200 less than the Ford Doctor’s Car) or about $18,500 today and had a top speed of 20 mph.

Copper and lumber magnate Samuel L Smith purchased the company in 1899 and renamed it Olds Motor Works. He also moved it from Lansing to Detroit. Smith was president while Olds became vice president and general manager. By 1901, Olds had built and sold at least one steam, electricity, and gas powered vehicle, the only automotive pioneer to do so. On March 9, 1901, the Olds Motor Works factory burned to the ground with only one Curved Dash saved from the flames. Olds claimed this is what led him to the decision to mass produce this car. Roy Chapin drove one of these early cars all the way to the New York Automobile Show. It took eight days and the trip was along mud roads so that when Chapin arrived at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, he was not permitted to enter in his disheveled state.

At the auto show, Olds pushed hard to sell his runabout. One dealer offered to purchase 500 and Olds quipped that if he took an order for 1,000 it would make the nation take notice. The dealer did make an order for 1,000 cars but only managed to sell 750. Even so, it is the larger number that was touted. It was not all easy and in 1904 Olds left his own company after too many fights with Frederic L Smith who came into the business purchased by his father. Smith and Olds were in constant conflict and when Olds left he started up RE Olds Motor Car Company. Smith threatened a lawsuit over the name and so it was changed to REO Motor Car Company and Olds served as president until 1925 and then moved to chairman.

Olds Motor Works was bought by General Motors in 1908, the year it was founded. Over the years they acquired several different companies under their overarching brand name, both automotive and non-automotive. During the 107 years of Oldsmobile production, 35.2 million cars rolled off the assembly lines. At least 14 million of these were built at the Lansing plant. At the time of its demise it was one of the oldest surviving brands with only Daimler, Peugeot, and Tatra older. Today, Daimler appears to be dormant, but both of the other brands are still producing cars, the former in France and the latter in the Czech Republic.

Car designers are just going to have to come up with an automobile that outlasts the payments. – Erma Bombeck

Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted that it would destroy as many people as it did. – Ray Bradbury

Money differs from an automobile or mistress in being equally important to those who have it and those who do not. – John Kenneth Galbraith

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. – Herbert Marcuse

Also on this day: What’s the Word? – In 1852, the third most popular book in the world is first published.
Rodney King – In 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles.
Free, Free at Last – In 1945, Dachau was liberated.
Slide – In 1903, a landslide down Turtle Mountain took place.

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