Oldsmobile was a sturdy and reliable American automobile produced between 1897 and 2004. Around 35.2 million cars were produced during those 107 years. Oldsmobile is the longest-surviving automobile make in the United States. Its longevity is beaten worldwide only by Daimler and Peugeot.
America's first mass-produced car
The Olds Motor Works was founded in 1897 by Ransom Eli Olds (1864-1950) in Lansing, Mich. Oldsmobile was the first car to be mass-produced in the United States, and the first to use an assembly line -- an innovation often falsely credited to Henry Ford, who was the first to use a moving assembly line. General Motors bought the company in 1908, and GM controlled production of the make for the remainder of its 96 years.
First in automatic transmissions
Oldsmobile pioneered the automatic transmission. In 1937, the company unveiled the semi-automatic "Automatic Safety Transmission," which had "low" and "high" positions. The low setting shifted automatically between first and second gear, and the high setting shifted between the first, third and fourth gears. In 1940, Oldsmobile became the first American carmaker to go fully automatic with the "hydromatic" transmission.
The war years
The company closed its car production operations between February 1942 and October 1945 to help with the war effort. Its facility was used to produce high-caliber guns and ammunition.
Always an innovator
Oldsmobile, always an innovator in its time, also pioneered the overhead valve V8 engine, called the "Rocket" engine, in 1949. It produced more power than the flathead straight-8 engines prevalent in its day. Again in 1962, Oldsmobile introduced the first turbocharged engine, called the "Jetfire."
Peak in '70s and '80s
With only a few lean years -- 1958 being a particular low for the company -- Oldsmobile remained a popular make through most of its long run. In the 1970s and 1980s, Oldsmobile hit its stride, becoming one of the top sellers in the nation. The company reached its sales peak in 1985, when a record 1,066,122 cars were sold.
By 1990, however, Oldsmobile lost its standing as one of the best-selling makes in the nation. Squeezed in between other divisions at GM, and with rising competition from imports, the brand would never again see the popularity it once enjoyed. In December 2000, GM announced that it would begin phasing out the Oldsmobile brand. The last car rolled off the assembly line in April 2004, bringing to an end one of the most reliable, innovative and popular automobile makes ever seen in the United States.