Oldsmobile may not be a brand that still exists today, but it had a significant impact on the burgeoning American automotive empire. And on August 21, 1897, the Olds Motor Works company first came to be.
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Ransom Eli Olds started working in his family machine-repair and engine-building business when he was 19 years old — and it was there that he first began experimenting with the development of his own gasoline-powered engines. He finished his first in 1896. One year later, he started the Olds Motor Works company with the backing of a lumber magnate.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Olds. A fire destroyed the Oldsmobile factory in 1900, just after it had moved from Lansing to Detroit. The only car that survived the fire was a small, one-cylinder, curved-dash model that progressively changed the American automotive world. This model was the first American car to use the progressive assembly-line system of production, and it was the first American car to become a commercial success after its sensational introduction at the 1901 New York Auto Show.
All was still not well within the Oldsmobile world, though. Olds split with his lumber baron and then with his board of directors, who wanted Olds to start manufacturing larger, more expensive cars whereas Olds himself wanted to keep making smaller, cheaper ones.
But Olds didn’t stay with the Oldsmobile brand. Instead, he founded the Reo Motor Car Company, and Oldsmobile was absorbed by the General Motors conglomerate in 1908. The nameplate seemed to have a serious staying power, though. It lasted through the Great Depression and crafted the best-selling Cutlass Supreme for decades.
The writing was on the wall, though. Oldsmobile eventually folded in 2004 after over a decade of speculation that it was destined for failure, unable to compete with the influx of small, cheap foreign cars