1901 : R. E. Olds Moves His Automobile Factory to Lansing

March 9, 2018 all-day

1903 Oldsmobile Advertisement
Early  Oldsmobile Advertisement

By rights, Ransom E. Olds, the man who founded the Oldsmobile company, ought to be as well known as his contemporary, Henry Ford: the two were born just a year apart, in 1863 and 1864 respectively. As Olds battled Ford to be the first to manufacture a successful car for the mass American market, the Oldsmobile Curved Dash became the first American car to be built on an assembly line.

The Curved Dash took its name from its curved footboard, styled after the horse-drawn carriages of the period.The model might never have seen the light of day had there not been a fire at the first Oldsmobile factory in East Jefferson, Michigan. Before the fire, Olds and his engineers had built eleven prototype cars, in different sizes and to different designs, including a couple of electric vehicles. The Curved Dash was popular wlth the workers, but they saw it more as a plaything than a contender for their first commercial offering. A factory fire, in March 1901, destroyed all the prototypes except for the Curved Dash.

Since he had to start over anyway, R.E. Olds also took the opportunity to move his plant to Lansing on March 9, 1901 .  He also concentrated all of his energies into perfecting the Curved Dash.

1903 Oldsmobile Curved Dash Runabout
A Curved Dash painted in a sporty red.

Although the fire was disastrous, it also provided a silver lining.  The factory fire made news, and Olds was receiving orders for the Curved Dash even before it was offered for sale.  425 were produced in 1901 at a price of $650 (£419). Most were delivered to their new owners by train, often with an Oldsmobile sales representative on board to hand over the two-seater car personally. In total, 19,000 were built before production ceased in 1907, by which time Oldsmobile had gotten into financial trouble and was bought by General Motors. Even so, Ransom E. Olds had beaten Ford to the mass market.

1903 Oldsmobile Curved Dash Runabout

1903 Curved Dash R Runabout.

In My Merry Oldsmobile Sheet Music featured the Curved Dash on the cover.


Historical Society of Michigan

For more information, see R.E. Olds and industrial Lansing by Michael Rodriguez. Charleston, SC : Arcadia Pub., c2004.

R. E. Olds, auto industry pioneer by George S. May. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. , c1977.

Curved Dash Oldsmobile Specifications and Review“, Complexmania, March 6, 2017.

Ransom Eli Olds entry from Heritage: Generations of GM History.

R. E. Olds : The Man Behind the Wheel (YouTube, 7:31 minutes)

R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing MI (YouTube, 1:58 minutes)

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