Contributions of R.E. Olds to the Lansing Community

The Olds family and the P. F. Olds & Son Company located in Lansing, MI in 1880 and created perhaps a dozen jobs for the community over the next few years. Lansing was a community of eight thousand residents and although the State Capital building had dedicated the year before their arrival, Lansing was a very small city with little industry.

By 1897, Olds had developed several types of motorized vehicles utilizing, at different times, electricity, steam and gasoline. He was using Clark bodies, made in Lansing, for the vehicles which also created new jobs and construction opportunities locally. Olds Motor Works Co. was recapitalized in 1897 and brought in a Detroit investor who insisted that manufacturing of the vehicles be moved to Detroit. After a disastrous fire in 1901 left only the Curved Dash prototype left for production, Olds took advantage of an opportunity to move production to an available factory in his beloved Lansing.

Moving Olds Motor Works back to Lansing was the single biggest thing to happen to Lansing in its history since it laid the ground work for the Lansing of today.

His philanthropic gifts were notable and often made headlines in the State Journal. His gift to build a replacement Engineering School at MSU, after it burned, was remarkably notable. Legislators wanted the engineering school moved to the University of Michigan; others suggested that the time was appropriate to have U of M annex the entire college. His private donation, highly unusual for the time, relieved MSU of asking the legislators for funding and probably saved the independence of MSU.

His descendants still manage the R.E. Olds Foundation with his goal of only donating to small local grass roots charities in Central Michigan. Olds would never donate to a charity that had “a corner office” as he was often quoted.

The contributions of R.E. Olds to Lansing is singularly significant and worthy of continued recognition. If not for Olds’ efforts to bring manufacturing back to Lansing and to continually reinvest, both corporately and personally, in the city he lived in his entire life, Lansing would be an entirely different place today.

The following is an attempt to partially identify the impact that R.E. Olds had either directly, or indirectly by encouraging competition, in the Lansing community. Many of his companies were acquired by other companies and those successor companies went on to provide further investments, jobs creation and taxes for the community.

Effect of OMW on Lansing in 1897 and thereafter:

  • capital invested increased by nearly 200% (includes other related industries)
  • number of workers plus wages increased by 100%
  • value of products manufactured increased by 134% to nearly $7,000,000.
  • influx of skilled laborers from other parts of the country
  • the city’s shipping carriers grew as did existing local businesses benefiting from the inflow of cash
  • Olds car production:
    1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904
  • eventually over 1,000,000 cars were built per year in the Lansing area at the end of the 20th Century
  • Olds was responsible for the creation of the (moving) assembly line
  • Oldsmobile Plants 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • Grand River Assembly
  • Delta Assembly

Effect of REO on Lansing:

  • 72 acre manufacturing facility
  • hired women for manufacturing jobs at a time when that was frowned upon elsewhere in the country; by 1920, 1,100 women (out of 15,000 city work force) worked at REO and OMW.
  • From 1900 to 1920, the city population grew from 16,000 to 57,000. REO employed 4,500.
  • R.E. Olds developed new industry practice of requiring privately owned dealers to pay cash on delivery for cars, thus allowing the factories to grow and not be constrained by a lack of capital.

Other Lansing businesses started by R.E. Olds:

  • National Coil Co. (1904, became part of REO in 1918)
  • Michigan Screw Co. (1906 – 1934)
  • Air Cooled Motor Co.
  • The Original Gas Engine Co. – Later Ideal Power Lawn Mower Co. (Olds invented the power lawn mower)
  • Kold-Hold Mfg Co.
  • Hollister Building
  • Capital National Bank
  • Olds Tower
  • Olds Hotel
  • Atlas Drop Forge Co.
  • Hill Diesel Engine Co.
  • REO Motor Truck Company

Union locals formed as a result of some of these businesses

  • UAW Local 602
  • UAW Local 652
  • UAW Local 1618
  • UAW Local 724
  • UAW Local 1753

Did you know?

Lansing at one time was considered to be the “forging capital of the world”. Four major forges were constructed here in addition to the one started by Olds (Atlas Drop Forge)

Other companies started Motor vehicles companies in Lansing to compete with Olds/REO:

  • Clarkmobile Co.
  • Owen Motor Car Co.
  • Duplex Truck Co.
  • Durant of Michigan Co.
  • Greenleaf Cycle Co.
  • Bates Automobile Co.
  • New-Way Motor Co.
  • Lansing Automobile Works Co.
  • Kish Plastic Co. (1959 – 2 electric autos)

Vehicle body/carriage builders:

  • Allen-Russel Body Co.
  • Hayes Industries, Inc.
  • Luce Manufacturing Co.
  • Clark & Co.
  • The Auto Body Co.
  • Lansing Body Co.
  • Cogswell Brothers
  • U. G. Body Co.
  • Lyman Body Co.
  • Lansing Bus Company
  • Victor Body Co.
  • John Bohnet & Co.
  • Hugh Lyons & Co.
  • Fisher Body Co.
  • John C. Schneider Co.
  • Capital Cabinet Co.
  • Capital Truck Bed.
  • Way Products Co.
  • Lansing Commercial Body Co.
  • Godfrey & Urquhart Body Co.
  • Wilkens Commercial Body Works
  • Motor Wheel Corp.
  • Industrial Metal Products Co.
  • Precision Castparts Corp.
  • Lansing Spoke Co.
  • Beilfuss Motor Co.


  • Lansing Stamping & Tool Co.
  • Never Miss Spark Plug Co.
  • W.K. Prudden Co.
  • Auto Wheel Co.
  • Gier Pressed Steel Co.
  • John Bean Mfg. Co.
  • Centrifugal Fusing Co.
  • Wohlert Corp.
  • Air Lift Co.
  • Haight Auto Lighter Co.
  • Michigan Crank Shaft Co.
  • Lundberg Screw Co.
  • Kirchen Machine Co.
  • Howard Sober, Inc.

Local donations by R.E. Olds:

  • Olds Hall of Engineering (MSU)
  • Sparrow Hospital (Board member and donor for years)
  • Lansing YMCA (paid off mortgage)
  • Women’s Club land & building donated
  • Woldumar Nature Center
  • Olds Baptist Church (Board member and donor for years)

Take your place in history…

Join the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum and help keep history rolling. Enjoy the benefits of membership and the pride of preserving automotive heritage.