Ransom Olds’ First Car Was Steam-Powered

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This horseless carriage was the 1905 Standard Runabout Curved dash Oldsmobile. This model sold for $600 ($675 with top). 

Ransom Olds built his first crude automobile, powered by a 2 hp Olds steam engine, in 1887. In A Most Unique Machine, George S. May wrote that it was “a three-wheeled box with a tiller steering the front wheel in the same way a child’s tricycle is steered.” It gamboled along at 5-10 mph with a rear-mounted engine.

Ten years later, Olds recalled the event. “I mounted the seat and pulled the lever. She moved slowly, but speed was increased as it went down the platform out of the shop; there was a slight raise, however, before crossing the sidewalk and she refused to ascend the grade, so I at once dismounted, and going behind, gave it a push to be remembered, which did the business, and it reached the sidewalk in safety; I again mounted the seat; there was yet a descent to the street in my favor, so that I had but little trouble reaching the road and running a block without a stop; at this point the efforts of the engine were exhausted, and an assistant was necessary, as it was getting quite light and there was no more time to be lost; I secured two pushers behind, and together with the engine, got it back without an accident, which ended my first trip in a horseless carriage.”

The test run was not entirely without incident. That early morning run scared a milk wagon horse, causing it to bolt. Casualties included nine quarts of milk and one of buttermilk.

Read more about the inventor of the automobile industry in Man of Vision: Ransom Eli Olds.

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