Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Olds, Ransom E.

Considered by some to be the founder of Detroit’s automotive industry, Ransom Eli Olds was born in Geneva, Ohio on June 3, 1864. The family eventually moved to Lansing, Michigan and Olds grew up tinkering, making a steam-powered automobile engine in 1884 and a gas-powered one in 1896. By August 21, 1897 he had formed the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, helped by entrepreneur Edward Sparrow. 

Samuel l. Smith bought the company in 1899, moving it to Detroit and making Olds vice president and general manager. Renamed Olds Motor Works, the factory was on E. Jefferson Avenue, the world’s first dedicated to automobile production. Olds experimented and finally produced a small gasoline automobile and began mass production of the vehicle using a stationary assembly line. However, the plant burned the same year it opened, 1901, and Olds relocated to Lansing. 

The only survivor of the fire, a prototype of his famous “curved dash” runabout, was very popular. After debuting at the 1901 New York Auto Show the Curved Dash Olds became the best-selling car in the U.S. The next year 2,500 were sold and 6,500 in 1905. However, Olds left Olds Motor Works in 1904 due to disagreements with Sam Smith’s sons. He then formed the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company, using his initials, changing the name to REO Motor Car Company to avoid conflict with Olds Motor Works. He was president until 1923, maintaining his position as chairman of the board.

Olds kept his interest in tinkering and experimenting for the rest of his life. He encouraged fellow innovators to look at his accomplishments, and he never pressed charges for patent infringements. His use of the assembly line, though stationary not automated, and his early development of a successful automobile lead many to consider him as the father of the automobile.

Ransom E. Olds died in Lansing, Michigan on August 26, 1950 and was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1968.



Ransom Eli Olds - Olds_Ransom

Photo dedicated to Ransom Olds, showing a decorated Olds auto, 1901 - 1953.026.007

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