Significance Reo Motor Car Company Plant, Lansing Michigan

Ransom Eli Olds, according to distinguished automotive historian John B. Rae, was "the first to demonstrate the possibilities of a mass market for a low-priced car," when he successfully marketed his curved-dash Oldsmobile. Although Olds sold only 600 of his cars during his first year of production in 1901, he rapidly increased this through a hitherto unprecedented advertising campaign in national periodicals and a number of highly publicized races and endurance runs. By 1904 sales of the curved-dash Oldsmobile had reached 5,000, making it by far the Nation's best selling automobile.

Olds was also responsible for highly significant innovations in manufacturing techniques. From the start he relied on subcontractors for many automotive components and, according to Rae. "carried the assembly of parts from outside supplier firms farther than anything attempted before." In addition Olds, says his biographer Glenn A. Niemeyer, "devised a progressive assembly system, which contained all the elements of the modem assembly line with the exception of the power conveyor."

In 1904, shortly after he left the Olds Motor Works, Olds founded the Reo Motor Car Company. Within the 3 years it had gross sales of $4 million and ranked as one of the Nation's four leading automobile manufacturers. After 1908, however, Reo's share of the automobile market shrank largely due to the development of giants like Ford and General Motors. Gradually, Olds withdrew from active management, and the firm confined itself largely to the manufacture of quality medium-priced cars and trucks on a relatively small scale. In the 1930's automobile production ceased, and the firm concentrated on its line of trucks before it was eventually merged with several other truck manufacturers.

The Reo Motor Car Company Plant, situated in an industrial area near downtown Lansing, consists of the only known extant and relatively little altered structures associated with Ransom E. Olds successful ventures into automobile manufacturing. The most significant Olds-related remains here are the 1905 Office Building: a 1905 factory; the 1908 Engineering Building; a 1917 employee Clubhouse; and four other factory buildings constructed between 1905 and 1914. All are brick, sit on concrete foundations, have either flat or monitored roofs, and exhibit many original exterior architectural features. The only other known extant Olds structure is a much altered section of the Olds Gasoline Engine Works plant on River Street in Lansing.