Olds, Ransom

Olds, Ransom (Eli)

(1864–1950) automobile manufacturer; born in Geneva, Ohio. His father opened a machine shop in Lansing, Mich., in which Ranson became a partner (1885). There he developed an internal combustion engine that he incorporated into a car. In 1897 he opened the Olds Motor Vehicle Company and, replacing his father's shop, the Olds Gasoline Engine Works. The vehicle company sputtered, but the engine company succeeded. In 1899 Olds moved to Detroit, formed the Olds Motor Works, and designed and produced the popular Oldsmobile. With its low price, easy assembly, and stylish curved dashboard, this was the first car to be produced in quantity. When his backer wanted a more expensive car, Olds quit to form Reo Motor Car Company and organized subsidiary companies to supply him with parts. In 1915, after a softening in the auto market, Olds formed the Ideal Power Lawn Mower Company to manufacture his newest invention. He dabbled in securities and real estate, particularly a Florida planned community, the unsuccessful Oldsmar (1916). A Baptist, his philanthropies included establishing an interdenominational home for retired ministers in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.