REO Motor Car Company
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The REO Motor Car Company was a Lansing, Michigan based company that produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975. At one point the company also manufactured buses on its truck platforms.
REO was founded by Ransom E. Olds in August 1904 (the name of the founder also lived on in the Oldsmobile). Olds held 52 percent of the stock and the titles of president and general manager. To ensure a reliable supply of parts, he organized a number of subsidiary firms like the National Oil Company, the Michigan Screw Company, and the Atlas Drop Forge Company.
The company's name was alternately spelled in all capitals as REO or with only an initial capital as Reo, and the company's own literature was inconsistent in this regard, with early advertising using all capitals and later advertising using the "Reo" capitalization. The pronunciation, however, was as a single word (like "rio"), never as letters ("R-E-O").
Early REO production
REO manufactured automobiles from 1905 to 1936, including the famous REO Speed Wagon, an ancestor of the pickup truck, from which the 1970s rock and roll group REO Speedwagon took its name, although incorrectly pronounced as "R-E-O."
By 1907 REO had gross sales of $4 million and the company was one of the top four automobile manufacturers in the U.S. After 1908 however, despite the introduction of improved cars designed by Olds, REO's share of the automobile market shrank due in part to competition from giants like Ford and General Motors.
In 1910 REO added a truck manufacturing division and a Canadian automobile plant in St. Catharines, Ontario. In 1915, Olds relinquished the title of general manager to his protégé Richard H. Scott and eight years later he gave up the company's presidency as well, retaining only the honorary position of chairman of the board.
Perhaps the most famous REO episode was the 1912 Trans-Canada journey. Traveling 4,176 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in a 1912 REO special touring car, mechanic/driver Fonce V. (Jack) Haney and journalist Thomas W. Wilby made the first trip by an automobile across Canada.
From 1915 to 1925, under Scott's direction REO remained profitable. In 1925, however, Scott launched an ambitious expansion program designed to make the company more competitive with other automobile manufacturers by offering cars in different price ranges. The failure of this program and the effects of the Depression caused such heavy losses that Olds came out of retirement in 1933 and took control of REO again, but resigned in 1934. In 1936 REO abandoned the manufacturing of automobiles to concentrate on trucks.
Reo Flying Cloud and Reo Royale
The Flying Cloud was the first car to use Lockheed's new internal expanding brake system and styling by Fabio Segardi. While Ned Jordan is credited with changing the way advertising copy was written with his "Somewhere West of Laramie" ads for his Jordan Playboy, Reo's Flying Cloud - a name that provoked evocotive images of speed and lightness - name changed the way automobiles would be named in the future. The final REO model in 1936 was a Flying Cloud.
The 1931 Reo Royale was a trendsetting design, introducing design elements that set the stage for true automotive streamlining in the American market. The model was built until 1935. Beverly Kimes, editor of the Standard Catalog of American Cars, calls the Royale "the most fabulous Reo of all". In addition to its coachwork by Murray, the Royale also provided buyers with a 125 hp straight-eight with a nine bearing crankshaft, one shot lubrication, and thermostatically controlled radiator shutters. The Royale rode upon factory wheelbases of 131 and 135 inches; a 1932 custom version rode upon a 152 inch wheelbase. The Royale also featured REO's attempt at a semi-automatic transmission.
After passenger cars
Although World War II truck orders enabled it to make something of a comeback, the company remained unstable in the postwar era. In 1954 it was sold to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company of Detroit, and in 1957 became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White then merged REO with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this firm filed for bankruptcy in the Western District of Michigan and most of its assets were liquidated.
Meanwhile, the corporate shell reorganized in the 1930s after a bankruptcy and the end of automobile manufacturing went through a series of transmutations into the nuclear medicine and prefabricated housing businesses before becoming today's steel company Nucor.
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