Oldsmobile was a brand of American automobile produced for most of its existence by General Motors. It was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. In its 107-year history, it produced 35.2 million cars, including at least 14 million built at its Lansing, Michigan factory. When it was phased out in 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving American automobile marque, and one of the oldest in the world, after Daimler and Peugeot. The closing of the Oldsmobile division presaged a larger consolidation of GM brands and discontinuation of models during the company's 2009 bankruptcy reorganization.
Oldsmobiles were first manufactured by the Olds Motor Works in Lansing, Michigan, a company founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. In 1901, the company produced 425 cars, making it the first high-volume gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer. Oldsmobile became the top selling car company in the United States for a few years. Ransom Olds left the company in financial difficulties and formed the REO Motor Car Company. The last Curved Dash Oldsmobile was made in 1907. General Motors purchased the company in 1908.
The 1901 to 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash was the first mass-produced car, made from the first automotive assembly line, an invention that is often miscredited to Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. (Ford was the first to manufacture cars on a moving assembly line.) After Olds sold the company in 1899, it was renamed Olds Motor Works and moved to a new plant in Detroit. By March 1901, the company had a whole line of models ready for mass production. Unfortunately, a mistake by a worker caused the factory to catch fire, and it burned to the ground, with all of the prototypes destroyed. The only car that survived the fire was a Curved Dash prototype, which was wheeled out of the factory by two workers while escaping the fire. A new factory was built, and production of the Curved Dash commenced.
Officially, the cars were called "Oldsmobile automobiles," colloquially referred to as "Oldsmobiles." It was this moniker, as applied especially to the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, that was popularized in the lyrics and title of the 1905 hit song "In My Merry Oldsmobile."
The 1910 Limited Touring was a high point for the company. Riding atop 42-inch wheels, and equipped with factory "white" tires, the Limited was the prestige model in Oldsmobile's two model lineup. The Limited retailed for US$4,600, an amount greater than the purchase of a new, no-frills three bedroom house. Buyers received goatskin upholstery, a 60 hp (45 kW) 707 CID (11.6 L) straight-6 engine, Bosch Magneto starter, running boards and room for five. Options included a speedometer, clock, and a full glass windshield. A limousine version was priced at $5,800. While Oldsmobile only sold 725 Limiteds in its three years of production, the car is best remembered for winning a race against the famed 20th Century Limited train, an event immortalized in the painting "Setting the Pace" by William Hardner Foster. In 1926, the Oldsmobile Six came in 5 body styles.
In 1929, as part of General Motors' companion make program, Oldsmobile introduced the higher standard Viking brand, marketed through the Oldmobile dealers network. Viking was discontinued already at the end of the 1930 model year although an additional 353 cars were marketed as 1931 models.