Oldsmobile History 1800s

Ransom Eli Olds in the late 1800s

Born in Geneva, Ohio in 1864 and raised in Lansing, Michigan, Ransom Eli Olds spent his early years building a variety of experimental engines and vehicles as the son of a blacksmith. He learned his fathers ways — diligence and exacting work — at an early age. He insisted upon high quality components and for a number of years, limited car production versus selling a car that could not hold up to his standards. Olds wanted to bring the city and farm folks into each other’s world.

From steam to gasoline

At the closing of the 1800s, Ransom got to tinkering with steam-powered cars, he claimed to have built his first steam-powered car in 1884. In 1885, Ransom Olds became a partner in his father's machine shop firm, which became a leading manufacturer of gas-heated steam engines. In 1886, he received his first patent for a gasoline-powered car. In 1895 Ransom and his father opened Olds Gasoline Engine Works where the two experimented and worked- and by 1896 had built their first gasoline-powered automobile.
Ransom Eli Olds at age 37 approx 1901
Built by Ransom Eli Olds in 1886
Olds Gasoline Steam Powered Carriage from Scientific American in 1892
1896 Olds Horseless Carriage
1899 Olds Gasoline Engine Works

Olds Motor Vehicle Company & Olds Motor Works

In 1897 Ransom Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, replacing his father’s shop and the Olds Gasoline Engine Works. That year, he sold a grand total of four cars. The vehicle company sputtered, but the engine company succeeded. The cars didn't sell very well on account of expense and the general populations aversion to being early-adopters.

By 1899 an investor by the name of Samuel L. Smith stepped in and bought the company, putting Ransom in charge of operations. That year, Olds reorganized in Detroit and formed the Olds Motor Works.

The company secured five acres of land at 1330 Jefferson Ave., near the Belle Isle Bridge along the Detroit River to build a new factory. It was the first designed specifically for manufacturing automobiles. The plant began operations in March of 1900 and Olds had built a total of 11 prototype vehicles by the start of 1901, including at least one example of a steam, electric and gasoline-powered vehicles.

Curved Dash - plant favorite 'toy' car

Among these pilot/prototype cars, was a small, light horseless carriage with a single-cylinder, water-cooled four-cycle engine at the rear. Its most distinctive feature was its curved dashboard. The small Curved Dash Olds was a favorite in the plant, but it was not really known to the public and was not much of a factor in the company's sales. It was considered a "mascot" or a "toy."

Samuel Latta Smith - Foremost initial investor in Olds
Olds Lansing, MI plant 1901
1901 - Engineers outside of the Olds plant in Curved Dash Olds
Curved Dash being tested on rough terrain - circa 1901
Olds gasoline and electric automobiles readied for the 1901 N.Y. Auto Show. Pictured outside of the Detroit MI plant. Note the absence of the Curved Dash.