Automotive Innovators Henry Ford and Ransom Eli Olds

Ransom Olds of the REO Motor Car Co.Rather than debate the "who invented it" aspect of the automobile, we look at the evolution of the auto industry in America with a comparison of two early innovators and pioneers in the Auto industry, Henry Ford and Ransom Eli Olds. It is a study in innovation, a study of success, and a study of personal drive and entrepreneurial spirit.

The Olds Motor Vehicle Company


In America, Ransom Eli Olds was a true pioneer in the automotive industry, in 1886 he began experimenting with a steam-powered engine and would receive his first patent for a gasoline-powered car.  Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company to manufacture it in 1897.  In 1899 Olds sold the company to Samuel L. Smith, who relocated the company from  Lansing, Michigan to Detroit. Smith became President while Olds became vice president and general manager.

Ransom Olds is credited with designing the basic concept of the assembly line. By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline. At the Old Motor Works in Detroit he mass produced the Curved Dash Oldsmobile becoming the leading American auto producer from 1901 through 1904.

Most people would recognize the name Ransom Olds as the founder of the more well known brand created by Olds that would become Oldmobile, but his association with that company lasted only a few short years. As Smith's son Frederic came into the business, he and Olds clashed frequently. Ransom Olds would leave the Olds Motor Works in 1904. 

General Motors purchased the Olds Motor Works in 1908. The Oldsmobile brand was discontinued by General Motors in 2004.

The REO Motor Company

In search of the greatest inventors and technology innovators

In search of the greatest inventors and technology innovatorsIn this section of GeekHistory we put some of the buzzwords into perspective to help you understand and appreciate great inventors and technology innovators.

In the previous article we took a look at a true visionary Jules Verne. Visionaries see what is possible, often before the technology exists to make it real.

The inventors often take visions of others and made them real by proving the concepts in laboratory or by creating the prototype. There are innovators who take a good invention and make it great, transforming the inventions into commercial products

What is the difference between innovation and invention?

There are people like Henry Ford, who spanned multiple categories, who take an invention and develop it into an industry. Let's use Ford as an example to look at the buzzwords.

Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile. German engine designer Karl Friedrich Benz is recognized for the invention of the first automobile. He Benz received a patent for the Benz Patent Motorcar in 1886. His Benz Patent Motorcar powered by an internal combustion engine.

But Benz invented the automobile using the internal combustion engine, which was developed by German engineer Nikolaus August Otto in the 1860s.

Henry Ford didn't invent the assembly line, nor did he invent the concept of an automotive assembly line. Ransom Eli Olds, for whom both the Oldsmobile and REO brands were named, is credited with designing the basic concept of the assembly line. At the Old Motor Works in Detroit he mass produced the Curved Dash Oldsmobile becoming the leading American auto producer from 1901 through 1904. By 1901 Olds had built 11 prototype vehicles, including at least one of each power mode: steam, electricity and gasoline.

No, Henry Ford did not invent "the automobile," but Henry Ford was an inventor of automobiles. Henry Ford designed his first car, the Quadricycle, while he was employed by Thomas Edison.

No, Henry Ford did not invent "the assembly line," but Henry Ford was the first to use a moving assembly line to manufacture cars. Henry Ford perfected the assembly line producing a entire Model T Ford in 93 minutes. Henry Ford created lower cost automobiles, and created an industry.

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