Who Was Olds?Article Index
Ransom Eli Olds was born on June 3, 1864, in Geneva, Ohio. He was the first son of English immigrants Pliny and Sarah Olds and had two brothers, Wilber and Emory. Olds made Lansing, Michigan, his home and married Metta Woodward there in 1889. They had one son and three daughters. Gladys Olds was born in 1892 and lived to be 89 years old. Bernice, Mildred and Ralph Olds died shortly after birth.
It's said that he built his first steam engine at in 1894 at age 30 and his first gasoline powered car a couple of years later. And then in 1897 he founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. Samuel Smith bought the company from Olds 1899, renamed it the Olds Motor Works and moved it to Detroit. He then hired Olds as vice president and general manager. In 1901 the Olds Motor Works introduced the now famous 'Curved Dash Oldsmobile' which was the first mass produced car in America. He actually developed the assembly line before Henry Ford which increased his production from a few hundred in 1901 to a few thousand in 1902 and over 5,000 in 1904.
When Smith's son, Frederic, joined the business in 1904 he took Olds' position so Olds quit and started the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company, which soon became the REO Motor Car Company (to avoid confusion with the Olds Motor Works). Olds was the president until 1925 and then took over as the chairman of the board. General Motors bought the company in 1908 and built a line of Oldsmobiles until 2002.
Ransom Olds was a classic entrepreneur. He started what was to become the Michigan National Bank in 1906. He was also involved in the Michigan Screw Company and Atlas Drop Forge Company of Lansing, neither of which are still in business. In 1908 he was a Republican delegate to the national convention and in 1913 he developed Oldsmar, a 37.5 thousand acre subdivision north of Tampa Bay, Florida. He financed the Olds Tower in 1931, which is now called the Boji Tower, and he built the Hotel Olds, now know as the George W. Rommey Building.
Ransom Olds died on August 26, 1950. The Olds mansion is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is now open to the public for tours.
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