F.E. Olds & Son, Inc. – A Short History

F.E. Olds & Son Logo
F.E. Olds & Sons Logo

The F.E. Olds name may not be familiar to you. The company that makes the student horn, the Olds Ambassador, went out-of-business 30 years ago. (A Westfield, NJ company now has the rights to the F.E. Olds name. ) Here’s a brief history.

Frank Ellsworth (F.E.) Olds started making trumpets and trombones in Los Angeles, California in the early 1900’s. The Super Olds line was introduced in the 1930’s, and is highly sought by collector’s today.

By 1941, Olds held at least 6 patents for trumpet and trombone design. Olds was first to use professional-type valve springing on student trumpets and cornets.

World War II interrupted the production of trumpets. Shortly after the WWII, the company was acquired by Chicago Musical Instruments with a eye towards the school band market. Shortly thereafter, Olds introduced the famous Olds Ambassador line of trumpets and trombones.

The Recording and Super models became popular with professionals.

Jonas Jones and his Olds Super
Jonas Jones and his Olds Super
F.E. Olds' Fullerton Plant
F.E. Olds’ Fullerton Plant
F.E. Olds & Son, Inc Fullerton Sign
F.E. Olds & Son, Inc Fullerton Sign

In 1950, the Fullerton plant was opened. As production was increased, quality suffered, and today some collectors prefer an ‘LA Olds’ versus a ‘Fullerton Olds’. (The distinction may be ‘bragging rights’; we’ve seen many fine Fullerton horns.)

In 1960, F.E. Olds died unexpectedly while on a cruise and was buried at sea. Reginald Birdsall (R.B.) Olds, his son, had been working at Olds since 1920, took over. It was under his direction that many of the trumpets we associate with the Olds name were produced.

According to the Olds webpage, the F.E. Olds company was a ‘one tolerance shop’, meaning that the horns were built to the same tolerances regardless price. The differences are in less-expensive components. The Olds Ambassador, for example, featured a high-quality valve body and the Ambassador bell was built on the same mandrels as the Olds Recording model, a much more expensive trumpet.

In 1964, Olds merged with the F.A. Reynolds Company. In 1978, the Olds company folded and its equipment was auctioned.

A New Jersey company now has the rights to the F.E. Olds name. It is based in Westfield, NJ.