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1897 Olds

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1897 Olds
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 38,580


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, pre-1900

Cadillac automobile


Oldsmobile Touring Car

Oldsmobile automobile
Catalog #: 286,567, Accession #: 57,967
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

The Olds Motor Works donated this 1897 automobile to the museum in 1915. The museum's Olds is the only remaining example of the first five gasoline automobiles built by Ransom E. Olds, who produced one such car in 1895 or 1896 and four more in 1897. The car in the museum's collection is one of the four. The automobile was designed to carry four passengers at ten miles an hour when.

Shortly after the Olds came to the museum, curator George Maynard declared, “The machine presented to the museum by the Olds Motor Company belongs in the regular class of self-propelled vehicles, and is of the type universally known as 'automobiles.' I think that is the most consistent and dignified name for it. 'Oldsmobile' is simply an advertising title that means little now and will mean nothing in the future.” Maynard's comments reflected the uncertain future of the automobile at the time of the car's donation: not yet a universal mode of transportation, it wasn't clear how important any car would be to the history of the United States. In fact, Maynard's comments were wildly off the mark—Oldsmobiles were popular early automobiles and the name survived for over 100 years.

Physical Description
Artifact. This 1897 Olds was a four-wheeled vehicle with solid rubber tires, a steering tiller, and chain drive. Its six-horsepower, one-cylinder, water-cooled gasoline engine is under the body. The gasoline tank is suspended beneath the engine.
Date Made:
Gift of Olds Motor Works, Lansing, Michigan
Ransom Eli Olds built a three-wheeled, steam-powered car and experimented with electric vehicles before turning to gasoline as a form of motive power in the mid-1890s. The Olds Motor Vehicle Company started business in 1897, becoming the Olds Motor Works in 1899. The curved-dash runabout was distinctive looking and sold well for the times. The company continued to go through some organizational and personnel changes: in 1904 Ransom Olds left the company to found REO, and the Olds Motor Company became part of General Motors in 1908. Still, Oldsmobiles remained in production throughout the 20th century, and Oldsmobile is one of the few companies whose history spans the initial experimental period of automobile manufacturing up through recent production.
Related People, Places, and Events
Place of Manufacture
Lansing, Michigan

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