Prominent People

Ransom Eli Olds

(Founder of Oldsmobile) 1864-1950

ransomframeRansom Eli Olds:
Invented assembly line 1901 enabling Olds plant to quadruple output. (many think that Henry Ford invented the assembly line, but Ford actually added the conveyor belts to Olds's idea.)
Produced low-cost automobiles at a time when most were marketing to the rich.
Responsible for the design of the Curved-Dash Oldsmobile.
Left Olds Motor Company in 1904 to establish REO Motor Car Company.

Samuel Latta Smith

(Foremost initial investor in Oldsmobile) 1830-1917

samuelframeSamuel Latta Smith:
The foremost initial investor in the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. A baron of copper mining, railroads and canals in upper Michigan. In 1899, Smith advanced $200,000 toward the formation of Olds Motor Works and the construction of a new factory at Detroit.
As majority stockholder, Smith was named president and his sons, also acquired shares.
Ransom Olds clashed with Smith's son. Olds departed from his namesake company in 1904 to form Reo. The Smiths favored larger, more expensive cars. They started selling Oldsmobiles for twice the cost of the original Curved Dash. Sales dropped from above 6,000 units to around 1,000.
William C. Durant began talks with the Smiths in September 1908. A stock swap transferred control to Durant’s new General Motors Company on November 12th, and the Smiths resigned the following year.

Henry M. Leland

(Built engines for Olds after fire at Olds plant) 1843-1932

henryframeHenry M. Leland:
After fire at Olds plant, Leland, head of Leland and Faulconer Co., built 2,000 engines for Olds. This was the first large component order by an auto maker to an outside supplier.
Improved on Olds' engine, and offered it to Olds but was turned down.
Went on with the improved engine design to build a car named after a French explorer who founded Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
Sold Cadillac company to General Motors and served as an executive running that division. Later left because of disagreements over just how high quality the car should be.
Started Lincoln, competitor to Cadillac, then later sold to Ford Motor Co.

William C. Durant

(Incorporated GM in 1908) 1861-1947

durantframeWilliam C. Durant:
Not an inventor or mechanic but more of a sales man.
Was a self made millionaire, partner in Durant-Dort Carriage Co., largest maker of horse drawn carriages in the country.
Incorporated General Motors in 1908.
GM purchased Buick, then 6 weeks later purchased Oldsmobile. In some months Durant acquired Oakland Company (later named Pontiac), Cadillac, and other parts companies. Durant almost lost control of GM in 1910, but with profits made from partner Louis Chevrolet, regained control of GM again in 1915.

Charles F. Kettering

(Key in the design of Oldsmobile's Rocket 88 engine) 1876-1958

ketteringframeCharles F. Kettering:
Head of GM research laboratory for 31 years.
Designed high compression V-8 engine which came to be known as Olds "Rocket 88", he also perfected high octane fuel to run high compression engines.
Prominent in development of first commercially successful automatic transmission, the Olds Hydra-Matic.
Founder of Delco (Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company).
Inventor of Freon, first electrical starter for cars, and quick drying paint for cars.

Roy D. Chapin

(Early test driver for Oldsmobile) 1880-1936

chapinframeRoy D. Chapin:
Left College to become a test driver for Oldsmobile.
Drove a curved dash Oldsmobile from Detroit to New York in 1901, an amazing performance for the time.
Helped form the Lincoln Highway Association to finance a privately built interstate highway across the country. His theory was that auto companies, assisted by makers of tires, batteries and upholstery, should build smooth, surfaced roads necessary to encourage potential drivers to buy cars for long distance use.
Later went on to start Hudson Motor Car Co., and his son founded American Motors Corp. (AMC) which was purchased by Chrysler in 1987.

Charles L. McCuen

(Designed Series F and L engines - championed use of Hydramatic Transmission) 1892-1975

mccuenframeCharles L. McCuen:
Advanced Engine Design Engineer Olds (1926). Olds Chief Engineer and Director of Engineering. Technical Assistant to General Manager of Oldsmobile and Buick (1932). Oldsmobile General Manager and Vice President (1933-1940).
Joined GM's Oldsmobile Division Lansing, Michigan in 1926 where as advanced engine design engineer he developed the series "F" and "L" engines. McCuen’s division was first with a completely automatic transmission, GM's Hydra-Matic that was introduced on 1940 model Oldsmobiles. The little group of engineers who originated the automatic transmission project acknowledge in later years that their innovation might have been bypassed, but McCuen's confidence and enthusiasm sold the concept to GM management when no one else in GM would touch it.
Innovation was an Olds hallmark in the 30s, the make (among others) pioneering "Knee-Action" independent front suspension for '34, a semiauto transmission for 37-39, and completely automatic Hydra-Matic Drive for 1940. Features like these earned Olds a longtime reputation as GM's "experimental" division and much of Oldsmobile's technical daring in the '30s was spurred by Charles L. McCuen.

Arthur Ross

(Creative Designer at GM for over 20 years) 1913-1981

rossframeArthur Ross:
Creative Designer at GM Styling from 1935-1958.
Assigned to Oldsmobile as Chief Designer in 1946.
Key in designs such as the 1954 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday convertible with two-tone paint, wrap around windshield, and spinner hubcaps.
His distinctive styling cues can also be found on '59, '60, and '61 Oldsmobiles.
Some sources list Arthur as the designer of the 1956 Golden Rocket.

Helen J. Earley

(Oldsmobile's resident historian) 1917-2005

helenframeHelen J. Earley:
First worked for Oldsmobile in 1942 as a stenographer.
Retired in 1987 after 45 years service.
Was Oldsmobile's resident historian.
A founding member of the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, member of the board of the Detroit Public National Automotive History Collection, member of the board of the Library and Research Center for the Antique Automobile Club of America and the Society of Automotive Historians.
Received the James J. Bradley Award from the Society of Automotive Historians. (award recognized the "Outstanding contributions to the preservation of historical materials related to the automobiles produced by Oldsmobile and for the spirit of helpfulness to writers, researchers, historians and restorers").
Established and ran the Oldsmobile History Center along with James Walkinshaw.
Co-authored two books, 'Setting the Pace' and 'Oldsmobile-A War Years Pictorial'.

James R. Walkinshaw

(Plant layout and facility planning at Oldsmobile for 33 years) 1935-2013

walkinshawframeJames (Jim) R. Walkinshaw:
Began work in Oldsmobile Plant Layout Department after graduating from General Motors Institute with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
Determined the arrangement of the facilities in plants in Lansing. Advanced through Industrial Engineering Department and Manufacturing Engineering, retiring in 1986. Was a part of almost every facility change during that time.
In 1987, Helen Earley and James founded the Oldsmobile History Center to manage the extensive historical collection about the People, the Plant and the Products of Oldsmobile. They co-authored three books using this and other material. Those books were: "Setting the Pace", "Oldsmobile War Years Pictorial", and "Oldsmobile the Last Chapter". The last book was completed by Jim, and dedicated to Helen, as she had passed away while it was being written.
Interests and hobbies included driving an 1905 Oldsmobile. Curved Dash was Jim's pride and joy late in life. Giving rides and explaining the Curved Dash history to his passengers was enjoyable to both. Jim volunteered his time freely at the RE Olds Transportation Museum.

Edward T. Welburn

(Contributed to design of Cutlass Supreme, Ciera, Calais, Aerotech, Antares Concept, Intrigue) 1950-present

welburnframeEdward T. Welburn:
Ed Welburn began his career in 1972 at the GM Design Center as an associate designer in the Advanced Design Studios. In 1975, he moved to the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio, where he contributed to every design of the highly successful Cutlass Supreme since the 1978 model year, and later to the Cutlass Ciera and Calais.
Appointed chief designer of Oldsmobile Exterior II Studio in Dec. 1989. His studio continued the development of the Cutlass Supreme and Ciera, and the Olds Aerotech research vehicle, which set numerous world and international records for speed and endurance.
In 1995, Welburn and his team designed the Olds Antares Concept, a vehicle that would have a major influence on the development of one of his favorite projects, the Olds Intrigue. The Intrigue was selected by Autoweek magazine as "The Most Significant Car" of the 1996 North American International Auto Show.
Edward T. Welburn was appointed GM vice president, global design March 2005. He had been vice president of design, GM North America, since October 2003, when he became only the sixth design leader in GM history.
On Jan 25, 2009, Welburn received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, which recognizes an individual's significant contribution to the auto industry.

Margaret (Peggy) Sauer

(GM Damsel of Design & GM Styling Interior Designer) 1925-1986

sauerframeMargaret Sauer:
From 1955 to 1962, Peggy worked for General Motors styling department as an interior designer.
From Oldsmobile interiors to Cadillac and Buick seat designs, Peggy created a very impressive resumé of her beautiful works of art.
Peggy successfully entered into a male-dominated industrial work force and pioneered herself as a huge success for many years.
Taught at the Henry Ford Community college along with the Columbus College of Art and Design, Highland Park Community College, Macomb Community College, and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
Oldsmobile Damsel of Design.
Created the Oldsmobile Fiesta Carousel station wagon (concept) in a metallic blue with matching interior. Carousel was designed with children in mind, and it featured a magnetic game board that could be attached to the back of the front seat. Sauer placed umbrella holders in the front doors and also located parent-friendly controls on the dashboard for the rear-seat door latches and window switches.
Other notable automotive design by Peggy was her interior design for the 1963 Studebaker Avanti model.