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Michigan Automotive History: Olds Motor Vehicle Company

Automotice Pioneer Ransom E. OldsIn association with our coverage of the North American International Auto Show (aka Detroit Auto Show) and the upcoming Michigan International Auto Show in Grand Rapids, we will be posting a series of short features on Michigan’s rich auto heritage. It’s usually best to start somewhere near the beginning, and that would be at Ransom E. Olds’ Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. According to the General Motors Corporate History:

(1897) Olds Motor Vehicle Company, Inc., the oldest unit of General Motors Corporation, is organized by Ransom E. Olds with capital of $50,000 (5,000 shares of stock at $10 per share) and the first Oldsmobile is produced.

(1899) Olds Motor Vehicle and Olds Gasoline Engine Works of Lansing merge to form Olds Motor Works. This new company is incorporated on May 8, 1899 with $500,000 capital. The first factory specifically for automobile manufacture in the United States is built by Olds in Detroit on Jefferson Avenue East.

Curved Dash by Andrew McFarlane

The Encyclopedia of Oldsmobile’s entry on the Curved Dash Olds says that the car cost $650 and was the first mass produced gasoline engine autos in the world. Interestingly enough, a fire at the Olds factory in 1901 inadvertently led R. E. Olds to create the supplier/subcontractor system which remains in use today. You can get up close with a 1903 Curved Dash Olds at the Smithsonian’s America on the Move exhibit and also check out the Michigan Historical Marker for Olds and the Curved Dash Olds.

According to Wikipedia’s extensive entry on Oldsmobile, the last Curved Dash rolled off the line in 1907 and the cash-strapped company was acquired by GM in 1908. Through the years, Oldsmobile became an integral part of GM and let the way with many innovations in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

Oldsmobile by naokomc

While Oldsmobile still has a website with an Olds timeline, GM began the process of phasing out the company in 2004. (Read Dead at 106 from CNN) You can learn more about the Olds history (along with other GM brands) at the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights. Here’s a cool set of photos from the GM Heritage Center.

If you’ve read this far, then you definitely deserve a reward. Below is the cartoon version of In My Merry Oldsmobile, a cartoon produced by Fleischer Studios for the Olds Motor Works. We also found some production stills from this feature at the Library of Congress.