You might be wondering what a classic rock band has to do with the Vinson Collection. It turns out that REO Speedwagon got its name from an early twentieth century vehicle produced by the Reo Motor Company.
The Reo Motor Car Company of Lansing, Michigan was founded in 1905 by Ransom Eli Olds after he left Olds Motor Works (what would become Oldsmobile). They produced both personal cars and commercial vehicles, but eventually they would shift away from personal cars and become known as a leading producer of commercial vehicles.
In production from 1915 through the 1950s, the Speed Wagon was a commercial vehicle that was built as everything from trucks to delivery vans to buses to fire engines. It is from this vehicle, the Speed Wagon, that the band took their name.
The frequently asked questions section of REO Speedwagon’s official website answers the question, “Where did the band get its name,” with the following:
From a flatbed truck, first built in the early 1900′s. It was very high-speed and heavy-duty for its day, and was considered a milestone in the history of transportation. It was sometimes outfitted as a fire engine. The letters REO are the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, who went on to create the Oldsmobile.
However, it is important to note that the statement about Ransom Eli Olds going on to create Oldsmobile is incorrect. R.E. Olds started Reo after parting ways with Oldsmobile in 1904.
There seems to be little evidence offering a more expansive explanation as to the how and why this particular model came up and seemed worthy of naming a band after.
Well, I guess it’s Time for Me to Fly so you can get Back on the Road Again. And just in case you Can’t Fight This Feeling (of curiosity) Anymore, start Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again and visit the Hagley Digital Archives to view literature on the Reo Speed Wagon.
Related Collection Items:
People of All Six Continents Ride in Speed Wagon Busses, (ca. 1922).
Master Speed Wagon 1 1/2-2 Ton, (ca. 1934).
Reo 1/2 Ton Speed Wagon, (ca. 1934).
“FAQ.” REO Speedwagon. http://www.speedwagon.com (accessed December 5, 2011).
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.
Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.