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MSU MUSEUM LOANS CURVED DASH OLDSMOBILE, FAMED PART OF LANSING, AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY, TO R.E. OLDS TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM

 

A storied object of the Michigan State University Museum’s collections will be on the move on Tuesday, Aug. 14 with the loan of a 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile from MSU to the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum. The MSU Museum’s vehicle will be in a closed trailer but it will be accompanied down Kalamazoo Street by an honor guard of working Curved Dash Oldsmobiles provided by local collectors. 
 
Ransom E. Olds, the founder of Oldsmobile in Lansing, donated a 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile to Michigan State College in 1948. Although space was initially identified in the Engineering Building, Olds was adamant that the automobile be placed with the museum where more visitors would get a chance to see this emblem of automotive innovation and heritage.

When the Curved Dash came to the MSU Museum, the vehicle was made operational by Engineering students and was even driven once in a college engineering exposition in the 1950s. A serial number, similar to today's "VIN," dates the car engine as a 1903, although it is known that the car contains parts and trim from other years in the 1900-1904 models. The Curved Dash was primarily displayed when the MSU Museum moved to its current location, the former Main Library at 409 W. Circle Drive, in the mid-1950s. The Curved Dash remained on public exhibit through the late 1990s, when museum exhibition halls were reconfigured.


Curved Dash Oldsmobile
The museum loan to the R.E. Olds Museum will be renewable on an annual basis.
 
"This is one of those historical objects that has always had such strong intrigue and enthusiasm attached to it and we are delighted it will be on display again," noted Val Roy Berryman, MSU Museum curator of history.
 
The Curved Dash, launched in 1900, was one of the first successful mass-production cars, with 4,000 selling in 1902. Contributing to its popularity were the strength and durability along with a simplicity of operation, designed for its owner to repair and service. The $650 selling price also made Curved Dashes very appealing.
 
Perhaps most notable about the Curved Dash was Olds' innovation of a "progressive assembly system," a forerunner to the modern automotive assembly line, attributed to Henry Ford. Olds pioneered a mass-production system whereby cars were moved along on rolling stands from one assembly group to another -- all the elements of what we now know as the modern automotive assembly line, minus a power conveyor. According to archival materials that accompanied the gift to the museum, 25 cars could be built in one day in Lansing, a production goal that surpassed any ever attempted. The Curved Dash, steered by a tiller, took its name from the distinctive "dashboard," similar to cutters and toboggans of the period, and originally designed as a barrier to protect passengers from mud-splatter in horse-drawn carriages. (Learn more about the Curved Dash at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum of Lansing.)
 

"The MSU Museum is very pleased to partner with the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum, to have an important part of Michigan's -- and America's -- history back on public display," Gary Morgan, director of the MSU Museum, said. "This car has a particular association with R. E. Olds himself, and it is fitting that the people of Michigan will be able to see it in a museum dedicated to his life and legacy."
 
The Michigan State University Museum collects, preserves, studies and interprets cultural artifacts and natural science specimens. The MSU Museum is home to nearly 1 million specimens, objects and artifacts, housed in four buildings across the MSU campus. When not on display, they are used for research and classes, and some are available for loans to other museums. Many collections are also being digitized to provide increased access. The MSU Museum has been successful in obtaining national grants -- from organizations like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation and the Museum Loan Network -- aimed at collections conservation and preservation, upgraded storage, and digitization.
 
See a short video showing the historic automobile moving out of storage in Spartan Stadium, by MSU's Communications and Brand Strategy.
 
Curved Dash Olds