Story of the Week

Posted: 05.17.2017
Oldsmobile's early foray into the truck market
By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

 

Front cover of marketing material for the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck

 

In 1919, Oldsmobile decided to jump into a new consumer market by manufacturing a great line of trucks aimed at delivery-focused businesses such as dry goods, bakeries and even as a firetruck.

It is often and mistakenly assumed that the Olds brand only made trucks during the 1990s with the popular Bravada and other SUV’s. Its first truck, however, came much earlier in the company’s history with the Oldsmobile Economy Truck. It should also be noted that Oldsmobile, before the Economy truck series was built, had manufactured a light and heavy delivery vehicle as well.

 

Example model of the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck.

 

The vehicles were generally designed for use by dry good stores, shoe stores, florists and the retail trade. The Oldsmobile delivery van was sold during the same time as the Curved Dash Runabout in 1904. The 1919 Economy Truck was powered by a four-cylinder engine and the models were available in a variety of bed styles. The advertising slogan for that time stated, “There's the truck for my business.”

In 1919, a record annual production gave Olds Motor Works a healthy $7.5 million in total sales which bolstered the company for the future. Consumers in every state and many foreign countries used the Oldsmobile Economy Trucks for their businesses. The standard express truck body became suitable for many lines of business and was very popular among consumers. They were well built and well designed trucks – for example, the floor and side panels were constructed of heavy hardwood stock, and the standard cab offered protection for the driver when driving.

From farmers to florists, along with the popular Coca-Cola bottling company, all used Oldsmobile Economy Trucks.

 

 

Example model of the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck.


Through the years, Oldsmobile would continue to manufacture great looking trucks. The Oldsmobile Express was another popular model that many in the business community really enjoyed. The standard Oldsmobile Express body was designed for a wide range of uses with the idea of providing a ready-to-use truck for as many lines of service as possible. The appearance of style for a paneled body was to highlight the body by its design from the Oldsmobile chassis, along with the hood and radiator for a terrific look. The Oldsmobile Economy truck with the express body was priced at $ 1,350.

Oldsmobile’s early foray into commercial trucks was nationally recognized and successful simply because it had provided business owners with a great value and low operating cost. It also presented a great investment. Not only was it an outstanding dollar-for-dollar value and the cost of its maintenance among consumers was very affordable, but most people liked its styling as well.

 

 

Example model of the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck.


The driver’s seat was comfortable and the upholstery was manufactured out of a durable material. The seat concealed the gasoline tank, battery and had offered a large convenient tool compartment for the driver in case of emergencies.

Through the years, the Oldsmobile truck line models had direct competition from Chevrolet and GMC truck line products. Throughout my research for this story, I have found that Oldsmobile trucks were manufactured in 1904-1908, 1918 -1924 and 1936-1939.

In conclusion, the adaptability and range of usefulness for the Oldsmobile Economy trucks made it the logical truck in a wide variety of fields within the consumer market, which today is a part of our American truck history.

 

 

 

Example model of the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck.

 

 

A 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck used to deliver Coca-Cola to retail stores.

 

 

 

Example model of the 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck.

 

 

A 1919 Oldsmobile Economy Truck that was turned into a fire truck. 



For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. 

If you would like to contribute an article for the MotorCities newsletter, email Communications Coordinator Austen Smith at asmith@motorcities.org  

 

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