In the mid 1960s a group of rockers formed the band R.E.O. Speed Wagon. It was a great live-performance band known throughout the Midwest. I personally saw them play at a bar in Champaign, IL in the late 60s and was impressed, but that name R.E.O. Speedwagon I just couldn’t figure out what it meant. Neal Doughty, one of the early band members came up with the name. While attending UofI in Champaign, one of his classes in electrical engineering was on transportation history. There he saw a work-horse of a truck that had been around for a long time. Not only could it haul stuff like nothing else, but its framework also powered many fire engines. The name of that beast was the REO Speedwagon, a name that dates back to the early 1900s.
The name REO Speedwagon, was the name given by its founder to his line of trucks. REO was the man behind the name: Ransom Eli Olds.
On this day in 1864 Sarah Whipple Olds gave birth to Eli in Geneva, Ohio. His father, Pliny Olds, was a blacksmith, pattern-maker and a steam engine builder. Five years after Eli was born, he sold his business and home, took those proceeds and moved to Lansing, MI where he opened a successful steam and gas engine business. In time Eli joined his father and continued to build engines.
Eli would go on to first build some highly efficient steam engines, but he also saw the benefits of both gasoline and electrical powered engines. On August 21, 1897, he founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan and began building horseless carriages, some powered by steam, others by gasoline, and also electrical powered. Two years later the company was bought by Samuel Smith who moved the new company to Detroit. Eli was made vice president and general manager of the company.
This was a short lived arrangement and in 1904 Eli left the company and formed the REO Motor Car Company. Eli would in time go on to create his special line of trucks that he called the REO Speedwagon.