The founder of Oldsmobile, Ransom Eli Olds was born on this day in 1864 in Geneva, Ohio. He founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan, on August 21, 1897. In 1899 the company was bought by Samuel L. Smith, a copper and lumber business man. He renamed the company Olds Motor Works and moved it from Lansing to Detroit. Smith, as President, kept Olds on the team as vice president and general manager. By 1901 Olds had produced 11 prototype vehicles, at least one was gasoline, one was electric and one was steam. Unfortunately, a March 1901 fire burned the factory to the ground. The story goes that a single Curved Dash Runabout prototype was saved from the flames, which is why it was put into production. However, more than 300 orders for the cars had been placed before the fire broke out.
The Curved Dash Oldsmobile sold for about $650 when it was new, equal to close to $18,500 today. About 600 were sold in 1901, around 3,000 in 1902 and at upwards of 4,000 in 1904. This vehicle, not the Model T, was America’s first first mass-produced, low-priced automobile. Olds is credited as being the first person to use an assembly line for automobile production, while Ford developed the moving assembly line.
In 1905 Olds left his former company and established REO Motor Car Company, also in Lansing, Michigan. Olds held 52 percent of the stock and the was president and general manager of the company. To ensure a reliable chain of supply, he organized a number of subsidiaries, including National Coil Company, the Michigan Screw Company, and the Atlas Drop Forge Company. Olds himself passed away on August 26, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan.