Who invented the first Automotive Assembly Line

Oldsmobile Cars Inventor Ransom E. Olds. Instant Success and First Automotive Assembly Line.

Automotive pioneer Ransom Eli Olds deserves credit for patenting the first assembly line process, and for starting the automotive industry in the Detroit area. Henry Ford is usually given credit for inventing the assembly line. What he actually did was to improve the idea by installing conveyor belts.

Olds Car Inventor in Lansing, Michigan

Ransom Olds, born June 3, 1864 in Geneva, Ohio, was the second son of Pliny Fiske and Sarah Whipple Olds. He was fascinated by machines and a wizard at working with them. At 30, he built his own steam car from junk and cast-off parts.

In 1895, he became partner in his father’s successful machine shop in Lansing, Michigan. His flash-boiler steam engine horseless carriage was the first ‘car’ sold and exported. The four-horsepower vehicle, shipped to Bombay, India, reached a speed of 15 miles per hour. Historians who unsuccessfully attempted to determine the fate of the vehicle believe it may have gone down at sea.

Gasoline Automobile Instant Success

In 1896, Ransom demonstrated his four-wheel carriage with tiller steering. That was only a few weeks prior to Henry Ford’s demonstration of his original ‘quadricycle’.

With increasing interest in the gasoline automobile world wide, Ransom and his partners formed the Olds Motor Vehicle Company August 21, 1897. Ransom was named General Manager at the first board meeting.

Though the product quality was excellent, and the company was building a reputation for dependable products, it was struggling. In 1899, Olds partnered with lumber magnate Samuel L. Smith. The company was renamed the Olds Motor Works.

The first Oldsmobile, the Curved Dash Runabout, powered by a single cylinder engine, was built in 1900. In response to advertisements, orders for about 300 cars at $650 each were quickly received.

The vehicle earned instant national success in 1901 when Roy D.Chapin drove one from Lansing, Michigan to the New York Auto Show. It was the first mass-produced automobile in the United States, and the industry’s start in the Detroit area.

Assembly Line Manufacturing Patent

Production was hampered when a fire destroyed the plant and relocation was necessary. By purchasing engines first from Henry Leland and later from the Dodge brothers, Olds became the first to ‘source’ automobile components. Nation-wide publicity of the fire, and Ransom’s reinvestment in the company, prompted a great surge in car orders. Its popularity increased when doctors gave strong endorsements of the car’s reliability.

To quicken production, Ransom Olds adapted an idea he’d seen in a musket factory. Each workman had a set station where he performed a specific task. As explained in Pioneers of the Auto Industry, “He set up an experimental production line in 1901. Although Henry Ford is often credited for introduction of the line to produce cars, Ransom Olds used it to jump his production from 425 cars in 1901 to 2,500 in 1902!”

Ransom Olds quit the company in 1904 when sales were up to 5000 units. He disagreed with his backers who wanted to manufacture more expensive cars. He founded the REO Motor Car Company (an acronym for his initials) in 1904 and the Ideal Power Lawn Mower Company in 1915.

Oldsmobile and General Motors

  • 1900 Name ‘Oldsmobile’ adopted from the company’s “Name the Car” contest.
  • 1901 First car to offer a speedometer
  • 1901 U. S. Post Office Department ordered its first cars – Oldsmobiles
  • 1901 Highest output in car manufacturing
  • 1908 Company purchased by General Motors
  • 1932 First automobile to offer an automatic choke
  • 1974 First to offer a driver’s side airbag
  • 1997 Celebrated 100 years
  • 2000 Phasing out of Oldsmobile brand announced by General Motors
  • 2004 April 29, final production day of longest-running U.S. car brand. Last car from assembly line was a dark cherry metallic Alero. It was donated to the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing.

Ransom Eli Olds died in Lansing August 26, 1950 and his wife Metta Ursula Woodward Olds a few weeks later.

The citation for his induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame states, “Olds inspired a generation of young mechanics to explore the possibilities of the emerging auto industry. Although competitors infringed on many of his patents, Olds refused to prosecute them and encouraged interested parties to visit his shop, observe his methods and share his innovations.”

One thought on “Who invented the first Automotive Assembly Line

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *