Ransom E. Olds

Inducted 1968

Distinguished Service Citation Award 1940

The Patriarch of Mass Production

Ransom Olds was one of the first mass-producers of automobiles and inspired an entire generation to explore the possibilities of the emerging auto industry. Olds was born in Geneva, Ohio in 1864 and raised in Lansing, Michigan. He spent his childhood tinkering with all types of engines and built a variety of experimental vehicles. He claimed to have built his first steam-powered car in 1884 and his first gasoline-powered car in 1896.

Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897, which was reorganized in 1900 as Olds Motor Works in Detroit. Olds had built a total of 11 prototype vehicles by 1901, including at least one example of a steam, electric and gasoline-powered vehicle. Before Olds had selected a prototype to put into large-scale production, a fire broke out at the Olds factory. The building burned to the ground, and only one vehicle was saved from the fire; a gas-powered “Curved Dash” runabout. The first production Curved Dashes were built later in 1901 and it was the first vehicle to be built using a stationary assembly line. This manufacturing technique enabled Olds to exponentially increase his manufacturing output from 425 cars in 1901 to nearly 2,500 in 1902. By 1903, Olds Motor Works had become the largest automotive manufacturer in the United States. Olds also initiated several practices that are commonplace in the industry today. He was the first to establish a system of suppliers by contracting with the Dodge brothers to supply him transmissions after the factory fire, and was even the first to use advertising and publicity to market his vehicles.

In 1904, Olds left the company he had founded after being demoted by ownership. He formed the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company, but later changed the name to the REO Motor Car Company to avoid a lawsuit from the Olds Motor Works. Ransom Olds would retire in 1925, having blazed the trail for many of America’s great automotive pioneers, and laying much of the groundwork for the American automotive industry to flourish.

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