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Lansing 1897, Michigan Historical Museum

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Olds Motor Works


P. F. Olds & Son

P. F. Olds & SOn Gasoline-fired Steam Engine Olds experimented during the 1890s with steam, gas and electric power for his vehicles. One of R. E. Olds’ early successes was the design of a gasoline-fired steam engine (pictured here in the exhibit). Gasoline burners heated the boiler’s water-filled tubes to create steam faster than conventional coal-fired boilers. It earned the family engine works a national reputation.

Olds Gasoline Engine Works


Ransom E. Olds, Experimenting Manufacturer

The third part of Lansing’s modern economy fell into place with the creation of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897.

Ransom Olds built his first gasoline-engine-driven horseless carriage in 1896. Frank G. Clark of Clark & Company helped by building its body. The sight of Olds driving around the city sparked interest among local businessmen. In August 1897, a group of investors—all but one of them from Lansing—met to form the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. In its first year the company built four vehicles.

It was the Lansing Businessmen’s Association, successor to the Lansing Improvement Company, that cemented the connection between Oldsmobile and Lansing. The company moved to Detroit in 1900, but in March 1901, a fire destroyed its Detroit plant. The Businessmen’s Association offered the company the fairgrounds in Lansing, a site that was much larger than its Detroit location. In early 1902, Olds Motor Works shipped its first cars from the new factory on the Grand River, a site where cars are still produced today.

R. E. Olds and His Cars

  • 1864, Ransom E. Olds born in Geneva, OH
  • 1880, Family moved to Lansing
  • 1886, Built three-wheeled steam-powered horseless carriage
  • 1892, Developed stationary gasoline engine and put it into production
  • 1893, Built four-wheeled steam-powered automobile
  • 1896, Successfully demonstrated gasoline-powered vehicle on August 11
  • 1897, Founded Olds Motor Vehicle Company with Edward L. Sparrow, Eugene F. Cooley, Frank G. Clark, Arthur C. Stebbins, Alfred Beamer, Fred W. Seibly and Detroiter Samuel Latta Smith
  • 1899, Formed Olds Motor Works on May 8
  • 1900, Production began in Detroit in March
  • 1901, Detroit factory burned on March 9
  • 1902, First cars shipped from new Lansing plant on February 22
  • 1904, Left Olds Motor Works
  • 1904, Formed REO Motor Car Company
  • 1908, Oldsmobile became part of General Motors
  • 1911, REO started building trucks
  • 1936, REO stopped building cars, continued making trucks
  • 1950, R. E. Olds died in Lansing on August 26
  • 1975, Diamond REO closed
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