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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Oldsmobile

In 1897, Ransom Eli Olds of Lansing, Michigan, founded Olds Motors Works, which would later become Oldsmobile, making his first gasoline-powered vehicle with financial backing from Samuel L. Smith, who had made his fortune in lumber.

In 1900, a fire destroyed all of its cars except its small, one-cylinder curved-dash model. It was the first American car to be produced using the progressive assembly-line system. Light, reliable and relatively powerful, the curved-dash Oldsmobile was the first to become a commercial success appearing at the New York Auto Show in 1901.

Ransom Olds split with his financial partner, Smith and with his board of directors over the future direction of the company. Olds wanted to continue to focus on smaller cars, while the board favored the production of larger, more expensive automobiles. In 1904, Olds left the company he founded to start the R.E. Olds Motor Car Company, quickly changing the name to the REO Motor Car Company (for his initials, R.E.O.) to avoid a lawsuit from the Olds Motor Works . After his departure, Oldsmobile struggled, and in 1908 it was taken over by the new General Motors conglomerate.

Ok, do we continue with the story of Oldsmobile? Or Ransom Eli Olds.

Let's start with Oldsmobile. By the 1920s, Oldsmobile’s six- and eight-cylinder models sat solidly in the middle of GM’s lineup—less expensive than Buick or Cadillac, but still ahead of Chevrolet. By the 1980s, however, Oldsmobile sales declined. Despite efforts to compete with foreign imports with smaller, more fuel-efficient models like the Aurora, Intrigue, Alero and Bravada, Oldsmobile continued to struggle, and in 2004 GM finally discontinued the brand. At the time of its demise, Oldsmobile was America’s oldest continuously operating automaker.

Ransom Eli Olds. You've likely never heard of the REO Motor Car Company. They built some cars, started a lawn mower division in 1946, while Olds was also involved in banking, real estate and politics. But they did build this truck in 1915 called the REO Speed Wagon, a fairly successful effort that continued in production until the mid 1950's.

And yes, there were these five guys who got together to form a rock band. One of the band's founding members, Neal Doughty, had seen the name REO Speed Wagon written across a blackboard when he walked into his History of Transportation class back in 1967, right about the time this new band was searching for a name. And it stuck!

Keep on rollin', keep on rollin', ooh ooh, ooh, ooh...


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