The RE Olds Transportation Museum. Image via Google Street View.
Lansing, Michigan, is best known outside the automotive world as being the state capital, a designation it received in 1847 on the feeling that its central location (within the thickly settled lower peninsula) was more equitable than running things from Detroit — then and now Michigan’s largest city, but tucked away in the southeast corner of the state. Automobiles weren’t even so much as a pipe dream in a state filled with white pines waiting to be felled.
Fewer than six decades after being named the state capital, Lansing would begin an association with Oldsmobile that would endure until 2004 when the last Alero rolled off the line and General Motors ended its oldest nameplate (acquired in 1908, four years after Olds himself had left the company). That Alero now resides in the RE Olds Transportation Museum on the banks of the Grand River in Lansing, along with a lot of other Oldsmobiles and REOs (Ransom E. Olds’s second company, also based in Lansing).
Curved Dash Oldsmobile of the type built at the company’s first Lansing factory. Image courtesy the RE Olds Transportation Museum.
The story of Lansing and Oldsmobile echoes that of many Michigan cities that sought to replace the declining lumber business with new industries. While Oldsmobile was founded in the city in 1897, it was purchased two years later by a lumber baron and moved to Detroit, where it remained until the famous factory fire in 1901. Boosters in Lansing, eager to get their share of the burgeoning auto industry, arranged to have a fairgrounds on the south side of the city (near what is still popularly known as REO Town) given to the company to erect a new factory in which to build Curved Dash runabouts.
Oldsmobile was hardly the first industrial company to locate in Lansing, however, and a new film, R.E. Olds & The First Auto City, explores the life and times of Ransom E. Olds and the city of Lansing. Included in this review are the industries that predate the automobile in Lansing, Olds’s own life and career — before and after Oldsmobile, and the impact the introduction of the auto industry had on Lansing.
The RE Olds Transportation Museum, along with author Michael Rodriguez and Biddle City Productions, have collaborated to tell this story on film through historical photographs, interviews, and film footage — both historical and contemporary. The film has its genesis in Rodriguez’s work R.E. Olds and Industrial Lansing. It currently stands at 25 minutes long and will be followed by a discussion — the ultimate goal is the production of an hour-long documentary on the same subject.
The museum will be hosting a preview screening in its building at 240 Museum Drive, Lansing, Michigan 48933 at 7 p.m., Tuesday, November 27. Admission is free and an audience of more than 100 can be accommodated. This is, currently, the only way to see this film as it is not yet being distributed commercially.
Those with questions are encouraged to visit the RE Olds Transportation Museum website or call the museum at 517-372-0529.