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Many car aficionados aren’t familiar with the accomplishments of Ransom Eli Olds. A gifted inventor and one of the pioneers of the American Automobile industry, Olds is credited with having the first mass–produced vehicle on a U.S. assembly line—the curved-dash Oldsmobile. Here are some fascinating factoids about Olds, brought to you by all of us at TranStar Auto Body Shop, a shop that respects the past and illustrious history of this amazing man and his inventions. We often see Oldsmobiles here in Oakland, CA and have worked on a few over the years, so sharing this information on our blog is a treat.
Olds was born in Geneva, Ohio, in 1864. His father moved the family to Lansing, Michigan, and opened a machine shop in 1880—P.F. Olds & Son. Ransom (also called, “Ranny”) later became a partner and developed a steam engine with a gas burner. He received a patent for a gas-powered car in 1886 and set up Olds Motor Vehicle Company to manufacture the vehicle in 1897. Two years later, the company was sold to a wealthy lumberman, Samuel Smith, renamed Olds Motor Works and relocated to Detroit. In 1901, the factory burned down; however, the runabouts were saved and assembly was brought to Lansing. More than 400 were produced that year, selling for $650 each.
As vice president and general manager, Olds designed the curved-dash Oldsmobile “runabout.” Known for being reliable, the car was marketed to women as well as doctors who traveled to visit patients. The curved dash reportedly kept passengers warm.
Due to disagreements with investors, Olds left the company in 1904. He founded REO Motor Company (REO stood for his initials), which built cars until 1936 and trucks until 1975. Eventually, Olds Motor Works became part of the Oldsmobile Motor Division of GM and the Oldsmobile was discontinued in 2004.
Other interesting things about Ransom E. Olds:
- Olds was the only person in the industry to have two car companies named after him.
- His invention inspired the song “In My Merry Oldsmobile.” Part of the chorus includes: “Come away with me, Lucille/In my merry Oldsmobile/Down the road of life we'll fly/ Automobubbling, you and I.”
- Olds’ mansion had a turnable in the garage so a car didn’t have to go in reverse when it was driven out.
- Famous for racing on the beaches of Ormand and Daytona, Olds raced his Pirate against Alexander Winton’s Bullet in 1903.
- After 1915, Olds focused on activities such as marketing a gas-powered lawn mower he invented. He also purchased and developed approximately 37,500 acres of land in Florida, known as Oldsmar.
- The father of the Oldsmobile was 86 when he died in 1950. Many called him “The Great Teacher” because of his openness to share innovations with the industry.
Sources: RE Olds Foundation, Your Dictionary and Brittanica.