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Sales Ad Saturday- Fire at the Olds Motorworks

From the archive for this week's 'Sales Ad Saturday', a story of what almost never was. It was this week in 1901 that a fire destroyed the Olds Motor Works factory in Detroit. Like other pioneers of the early car, Ransom E. Olds was developing and experimenting with several different horseless carriages he could bring to market. On March 9th, 120 years ago, a fire destroyed most of the factory, with only the foundry surviving. Lost in the flames were almost two dozen different prototypes, with only a small, economical curved-dash runabout saved by a timekeeper named James J. Brady who managed to push the prototype out to safety.

Olds quickly decided to drop attempts at redeveloping any of the lost prototypes and focus all resources (including the last of his available capital) on quickly rebuilding and bringing the small runabout to market. Olds worked himself into the hospital, but he soon recovered, and by late May of that year the first of the Curved Dash Oldsmobiles were built. Business leaders in Lansing saw an opportunity for their community and offered Olds the former fairgrounds and its buildings for temporary quarters for some departments of the Olds Motor Works. Olds found the location perfect for his needs, as it already had a racetrack useful for testing and plenty of space. Olds's development of the iconic Curved Dash runabout was a huge success, and by 1905 the company moved production to Lansing. Olds Motor Works would be acquired by GM in 1908 and the rest is history. Ransom himself left the company in 1904 over disagreements with his board over the future direction of the firm. He went on to found the REO Motor Car Company in 1905, which he remained involved with in various capacities through the 1930's.

It's entirely possible that without the grit, determination and vision of Ransom Olds in 1901 automotive history as we know it would have looked a little different... There would have been no 'Date with a Rocket 8', no StarFire's, Toronado's, F-85's, Vista Cruisers, or 442's for either you, or your father to drive.


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