Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
1903 curved-dash Olds

Enlarge Image
1903 curved-dash Olds
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 44-002A


This object appears in the following sections:

Making Sense of "Failed" Car Technology — Famous Makes

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1900-1909

Olds Motor Works radiator emblem

Oldsmobile automobile

Catalog #: 312,854, Accession #: 167,743
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This 1903 Olds, a curved-dash runabout—named after a carriage type—was a very popular car in its day. It was produced between 1901 and 1906 and cost $650. The car helped make the Olds Motor Works one of the largest early automobile manufacturing concerns. By 1902, the company made around 2,500 cars a year. The company employed some mass-production techniques to turn out its cars, including an early version of an assembly line (without mechanization). Although the curved dash was a distinctive feature, it was just a decorative addition.

The museum’s curved-dash Oldsmobile was used until 1941. It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1944 and restored in 1956.

Physical Description
This car has a one-cylinder engine, with a 4/12-inch bore and a 6-inch stroke. The engine is placed horizontally with the cylinder head at the rear of the car and the flywheel below the seat. The car had a starting crank on the right side of the body, designed so that the driver could crank the engine while seated in the car. It has planetary transmission. The car's wheelbase is 66 inches and the tread 55 inches. It has metal step plates and fenders, a wooden body and a steel frame, and oil burning lamps.
Date Made:
Bequest of Thomas A. Peabody
The Olds Motor Works was formed in the late nineteenth century out of the merger of the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. and the Olds Gasoline Engine Works. The car-making side of the business was not very sucessful initially, but the curved-dash runabout helped breathe life into the firm, turning the company into the largest early automobile maker. Founder Ransom E. Olds left the company in August 1904, and it became part of the newly formed General Motors holding company in 1908. The Olds Motor Works was technically a separate company until 1917 when it became an operating division of GM.

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits