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Ransom E. Olds papers

Identifier: 00027

Scope and Content

The Ransom E. Olds papers are divided into two sections. The first section consists of Olds' personal papers. Included in this section are Olds' love letters to Metta Woodward (June 6, 1864-September 2, 1950), whom Olds married in 1899, Olds' philanthropic activities, his daybooks and two journals of the Olds family trip to Europe.

The second section deals with Olds' business activities from 1904 to 1947. Included are correspondence series of Olds Motor Works and REO and several small companies that Olds either owned or was the major stockholder. There is also a correspondence series between Olds and various stockbrokers and bankers who wished to interest Olds in an investment plan.

The correspondence on "Chicago Property" relates to a large apartment building that Olds owned. In 1916, this property plus securities and $200,000 was exchanged for a large tract of land in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, Florida, which was ultimately developed into "Reolds Farms". Olds attempted in April-May of 1917 to interest the Defense Department in establishing a shipyard there to construct a "wooden fleet".


  • Creation: 1884 - 1950


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Ransom E. Olds (June 3, 1864-August 26, 1950) was a pioneer in mass production in the automobile industry. Born in Ohio, his family moved to Lansing when Olds was 16. His father, Pliny F. Olds, established a foundry and machine shop in which Olds bought a part interest in 1885. During the 1880s Olds devoted many hours to perfecting a lightweight internal combustion vehicle. By 1893, Olds filled the first order for his car, and in 1897 formed the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. The company was incorporated in 1899 with a working capital of $150,000. The company built a plant in Detroit and began producing a car built to sell for $1250. Because the car was relatively large and sold at a price beyond the average person's financial means, the business was not generally a success. A fire at the Detroit Olds plant destroyed all the blueprints for the cars, and the only car left in one piece was the now famous curved-dash Olds, which sold for $650. The company returned to Lansing and produced the curved-dash car exclusively. In the first year of production, 450 cars were produced and sold. By 1902, 4000 were sold.

In 1904, Olds sold out his stock in the Olds Motor Company and organized REO Motor Car Company. He was President and General Manager from 1905 to 1924, at which time Olds retired from an active part in REO. He was chairman of the board from 1924 to 1936.

During the later years of his life, Olds built financial security for his family and himself in stocks, bonds and real estate. Olds was also a philanthropist, donating to a wide variety of social and moral reform societies.

A businessman of widely varied interests, R.E. Olds assumed a managerial involvement in automobile manufacture, peat mining, 27 industries, and real estate, and invested in a number of other areas. The bulk of this collection is related to these investments.

The Bancroft Peat Company was established near the Michigan town of this name to produce a cheap fuel. High costs and failure to develop a market destroyed this enterprise.

The peat land was converted to peppermint production. When this venture also proved unprofitable, it was sold.

Olds' other great business failure was his investment in the Fearnot Mining Company, which operated a gold mine near Victorville, California. The correspondence on the operation is very complete, and begins on a note of extreme optimism. Olds eventually became disenchanted with the venture and ran an independent mine assay which showed that the mine could never be a paying proposition. He subsequently sold his investment at what must have been a substantial loss.


5.6 Cubic Feet (, 9 volumes, 2 reels microfilm)

Language of Materials


Legal Status

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Copyright restrictions may apply. Property Rights: Michigan State University.


Ransom E. Olds Papers
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Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US