Ransom Olds Biography

Ransom Olds

Ransom Eli Olds (June 3, 1864 – August 26, 1950) was a pioneer of the American automotive industry, after whom the Oldsmobile and REO brands were named. He claimed to have built his first steam car as early as 1887 and his first gasoline-powered car in 1896.

The modern assembly line and its basic concept is credited to Olds. Olds was the first person to use a stationary assembly line in the automotive industry. Henry Ford came after him, and was the first to use a moving assembly line to manufacture cars.

The gasoline-powered Curved Dash Oldsmobile is credited as being the first mass-produced automobile, built on an assembly line using interchangeable parts. It was introduced in 1901 and produced through 1907 when General Motors assumed operations from Ransom E. Olds on November 12, 1908. GM introduced the Oldsmobile Model 20, which was the 1908 Buick Model 10 with a stretched wheelbase and minor exterior changes.

Ransom Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan, on August 21, 1897. to manufacture the Oldsmobiles marque. The company was bought by a copper and lumber magnate named Samuel L. Smith in 1899 and renamed Olds Motor Works. The new company was relocated from Lansing to Detroit. Smith became President while Olds became vice president and general manager. By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline. The Olds Motor Works was bought by General Motors in 1908.

In 1904, Olds left the Olds Motor Works and formed the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company. Its name was quickly changed to REO Motor Car Company to avoid a lawsuit from the Olds Motor Works. The name REO came from the initials of his name but was pronounced as a word. Sometimes it was spelled Reo to emphasize this pronunciation. The REO Motor Car Company was based Lansing, Michigan and produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975.

In 1907, REO had gross sales of $4.5 million and the company was one of the four wealthiest automobile manufacturers in the U.S. After 1908 however, despite the introduction of improved cars designed by Olds, REO’s share of the automobile market decreased due in part to competition from emerging companies like Ford and General Motors.

REO added a truck manufacturing division and a Canadian plant in 1910. In 1915, Olds relinquished the title of general manager to Richard H. Scott, and eight years later he ended his tenure as the company’s presidency as well, retaining the position of chairman of the board.

After 1915 Olds turned most of his attention from the automobile business to other activities, including the marketing of the world’s first gasoline-powered lawn mower, which he had invented, and land development in Florida. In 1916, Olds purchased 37,547 acres of land by the northern part of Tampa Bay in Florida to establish “R. E. Olds-on-the-Bay”. He developed the area into what is now the city of Oldsmar. Oldsmar is located in Pinellas County, Florida, as of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 13,591. The name was later changed to Oldsmar, then to “Tampa Shores” in 1927, and finally back to Oldsmar in 1937. He traded his land for the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida in 1926. The hotel has 11 stories and features 220 rooms, three restaurants, a swimming pool and a ballroom. Today it is owned and operated by the Church of Scientology

From 1915 to 1925, REO remained profitable. In 1923, the company sold an early recreational vehicle, called the “Motor Pullman Car” that included a drop-down sleeping extension, a built-in gas range, and a refrigerator. The effects of the Great Depression caused such losses that Olds ended his retirement during 1933 and assumed control of REO again, but resigned in 1934. During 1936, REO abandoned the manufacture of automobiles to concentrate on trucks.

REO’s two most memorable cars were its Reo Flying Cloud and the Reo Royale 8

The Flying Cloud was introduced in 1927 and the first car to use Lockheed’s new hydraulic internal expanding brake system and featured styling by Fabio Segardi. Reo’s Flying Cloud——a name that provoked evocative images of speed and lightness——changed the way automobiles would be named in the future. The final REO model of 1936 was a Flying Cloud. Also in 1927, Reo introduced the Wolverine brand of cars as a companion model to the Flying Cloud. With a Continental engine, artillery wheels, and a different pattern of horizontal radiator louvers from the Flying Cloud, the Wolverine was made until 1928.

The 1931 Reo Royale was a trendsetting design, the 8-cylinder model was sold through 1933 with minor updates. The name was used on a lower-priced 6-cylinder model through 1935. In 1934, Olds received a patent for a diesel engine.

Although truck orders during World War II enabled it to revive somewhat, the company remained unstable in the postwar era, resulting in a bankruptcy reorganization. In 1954, the company was still underperforming, and sold vehicle manufacturing operations to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation of Detroit. Three years later, in 1957, Reo’s vehicle manufacturing operation became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White then merged REO with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond-Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this company filed for bankruptcy and most of its assets were liquidated. Volvo later took over White and thus currently owns the rights to the REO brand name.

After selling Reo’s vehicle manufacturing operation to Bohn in 1954, management began liquidating the remainder of the company, a group of shareholders successfully challenged the liquidation in a proxy fight in September 1955, and forced REO to take over a tiny nuclear services company called Nuclear Consultants, Inc. in a reverse takeover. The resulting Nuclear Corporation of America, Inc., diversified and purchased other companies to become a conglomerate, spreading into an array of fields including prefabricated housing and steel joist manufacturing in addition to nuclear services. Most of these business were failures and the company was bankrupt by 1966. After reorganizing, only the successful steel-joist business remained; the company started producing recycled steel, and eventually renamed itself Nucor.

Nucor Corporation is a producer of steel and related products headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is the largest steel producer in the United States of America and is the largest “mini-mill” steelmaker. In 2016, the company produced and sold approximately 22 million tons of steel. Nucor operates 23 scrap-based steel production mills with revenue of US$20.252 billion (2017)

In 1967, The rock band REO Speedwagon took their name from the REO Speed Wagon light delivery truck, an ancestor of pickup trucks, though the band pronounces REO as letters rather than as a word.

In 2004 General Motors discontinued the Oldsmobile brand after a production run of 96 years.

R.E. Olds Foundation

Founded in 1914, the R.E. Olds Foundation is the oldest family/private foundation in the state of Michigan. It began as the Ransom Fidelity Company by R.E. Olds for his growing philanthropic endeavors in his home of Lansing, Michigan as well as globally. In 2004, it was renamed the R.E. Olds Foundation, by the fourth generation of family members. The foundation continues to reflect the philanthropic ideals of Ransom Eli Olds and maintain the family name for the tri-county region in Michigan. The R.E. Olds Foundation is committed to the Greater Lansing community through the support of community-based education programs, focusing on youth and families, animal welfare, and environment issues. www.reoldsfoundation.org


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