A Brief History of Oldsmobile

A Brief History of Oldsmobile


Oldsmobile was an American automobile brand that was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. The company was the oldest surviving American automobile brand until its discontinuation in 2004.

Ransom E Olds in 1901 (Wikipedia)

Oldsmobile’s early years were marked by innovation and success. In 1901, the company introduced the Curved Dash, which was the first mass-produced car in the world. The Curved Dash was affordable and reliable, and it helped establish Oldsmobile as a major player in the automotive industry.

By Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden (Wikipedia)

In the early 1900s, Oldsmobile continued to innovate. In 1908, the company was acquired by General Motors (GM), which helped it expand its production and distribution capabilities. In 1916, Oldsmobile introduced the first electric starter in a mass-produced car, which eliminated the need for a hand crank.

Oldsmobile-Six 1914 Model 54 (Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Oldsmobile continued to produce popular cars, such as the Oldsmobile Six and the Oldsmobile Eight. The company also introduced many features that are now commonplace in modern cars, such as hydraulic brakes and automatic chokes.

In 1940, Oldsmobile introduced the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, which was the first fully automatic transmission in a mass-produced car. The Hydra-Matic was a major technological advancement and helped Oldsmobile establish itself as an industry leader in transmission technology.

A Hydra-Matic Drive transmission, produced between 1939 and 1956, on display at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum

In 1949, Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket V8 engine, which was the first high-compression overhead valve V8 engine. The Rocket V8 was a powerful engine that helped establish Oldsmobile as a leader in performance and innovation.

1949 303 cu. in. Rocket (Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Oldsmobile continued to produce popular and innovative cars, such as the Oldsmobile 88 and the Oldsmobile Cutlass. The company also became known for its muscle cars, such as the Oldsmobile 442.

By Alfvanbeem (Wikipedia)

However, the 1970s and 1980s were not as successful for Oldsmobile. The company struggled to compete with foreign imports and faced financial difficulties. In 1985, General Motors announced that it would be phasing out the Oldsmobile brand.

1971 Oldsmobile 442 (Wikipedia)

Despite this, Oldsmobile continued to produce cars throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, including the popular Oldsmobile Alero and Oldsmobile Intrigue. However, in 2004, General Motors announced that it would be discontinuing the Oldsmobile brand due to declining sales and market share.

The RE Olds Transport Museum

The R.E. Olds Museum was incorporated in 1977 on the incentive of a study task force of the Greater Lansing Chamber of Commerce. After site selection and renovation, the Museum opened to the public on May 18, 1981 at its present location. The Museum rented its building from the City of Lansing until February 2018 when the city sold it to the museum for $2.

As the Museum has grown in interpretation of its mission, and to more accurately promote Lansing area’s many contributions in transportation, the word “Transportation” was added to the Museum’s name in 1987.

The museum is a 501c3 nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees. It is dedicated to Ransom Eli Olds, a Lansing inventor, entrepreneur, financier, and one of Lansing’s most notable automotive leaders. Olds created the principle of the assembly line in the automobile industry and founded two local automobile companies: Olds Motor Works (1897) and REO Motor Car Company (1904).

Exhibits include a significant collection of automobiles, engines, and other materials significant to the transportation history of Lansing, the region, the state and the nation. The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum and the Bates and Edmonds Engine Company offices are resources within the Lansing Stewardship Community of Motor-Cities-National Heritage Area, a cultural heritage area and affiliate of the National Parks Service.

4 thoughts on “A Brief History of Oldsmobile

  1. Not trying to pick nits, but it was Cadillac that introduced the all-electric starting and charging system in 1912 as a 1913 model year innovation. However, Oldsmobile was a very innovative company for much of its existence.

    1. Thanks for the comment and support. I agree, it was Kettering and Leland of course who were the Pioneers. I guess it could be argued that Olds could be seen as the first mass production implementation.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.