The Way it Was: Ransome Olds

By March 16, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgThere is a popular myth that Henry Ford invented the automobile assembly line. It was actually a fellow named Ransome Olds who was the first person to mass produce cars in the U.S.

Olds began making steam and gasoline engines with his father, Pliny Fisk Olds, in Lansing, Michigan, in 1885. Olds designed his first steam powered car in 1887, and 12 years later, armed with growing knowledge of gas powered engines, started the Olds Motor Works in Detroit.

Unfortunately, before production began, his factory burned down. Exactly one prototype – a single cylinder buggy – survived. But he set up another factory and soon the Oldsmobile Gas Buggy – that’s what it was called – was selling very well.

The name Oldsmobile was first used in 1900, though the cars were known simply as Olds. It was the nation’s leading manufacturer of cars from 1901 to 1904, when Ransome Olds left the company to start another car company making something called “Reo” cars, or R-E-O, derived from his initials. The Reos were similar to Oldsmobiles but for some reason never sold very well.

Despite the departure of Olds, or perhaps because of it, the Oldsmobile Company prospered, and in 1908 was purchased by William C. Durant. Along with Buick, it became the foundation of General Motors.

UPDATE (10:50 p.m.): Corrected the reference to William Durant. Will Durant was the historian.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Lance Haynes says:

    Hello.
    The founder of GM is not will Durant but mr. William C. Durant of Flint MI.
    Will Durant was a philosopher at that time. Nothing to do with any cars.
    There is a nice RE Olds Transportation Museum at
    240 Museum Drive Lansing MI 48933
    with lots or RE OLDS cars in it.
    Thank you for the story.
    Lance Haynes
    Past President of Durant Motors Automobiles Club
    Program Chairman Antique Automobile Club of America
    4672 Mt. Gaywas Drive
    San Diego, CA 92117
    Phone: 858-560-5737

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