1909 REO front grill emblem.
The Reo Motor Car Co. Ltd. was a United States, Lansing Michigan based company which produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975.
Reo was founded by Ransom E. Olds in August 1904 (the name of the founder also lived on in the Oldsmobile). The name is often spelled in all capitals, as REO, although the company's own advertising shows that this capitalization is not necessary. Ransom 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.
Reo manufactured automobiles from 1905 to 1936, including the famous Reo Speed-Wagon, an ancestor of the pickup truck, which gave its name to the 1970s rock and roll group REO Speedwagon.
By 1907 Reo had gross sales of four million dollars 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 prot?g? 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 automoblie 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 manufacture of automobiles.
Reo's moment in automotive history came with the introduction of the Reo Royale 8 of 1931. This was the car that introduced styling changes that were the precursor of true streamlining to the American market. The model continued to be made until 1933.
Although World War II truck orders enabled it to make something of a comeback, the company remained unstable in the postwar era. In 1954 the company was sold to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company of Detroit, and in 1957 became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White merged Reo with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this firm filed for bankruptcy 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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