REO Shuts Down, A Sad Time For Lansing

REO Motor Co. at its peak in Lansing, MI

What was once a booming auto manufacturing company that only employed Lansing workers and had Lansing men running things from the top, had its own baseball team and clubhouse, as well as donated to various community building projects such as the YMCA and women’s rights. Employees described working at REO as being part of a family, they were not just another number on the clock like the bigger Oldsmobile plant to the North in Lansing. The REO family tree, however, would come to a sad and depressing end in the mid-seventies, as the Lansing REO plant would end in corruption, filth, unsafe working conditions, and a curious, building leveling, fire.

The plant itself had outdated and unsafe equipment and management seemed to ignore safety programs like OSHA that were supposed to make work environments safer. Lisa Fine informs us in her book The Story of REO JOE  that, “In 1973 the union identified a long list of problems: hazardous working condition, substandard first-aid, cockroaches….rodent droppings in vending machines, diesel exhaust fumes that drifted into many work areas” (Fine, 2004). To make things worse Francis Cappaert, the owner of the Company at the time of its demise, was responsible for tampering with and depleting the pension fund, and although REO was in bad shape

In 1975 workers show up to a pad-locked REO plant…… they knew it was over.

before Cappaert’s reign, he is responsible of robbing workers (some of which worked at REO over 20 years) of any type of a legit retirement. His brutal tactics coupled with mismanagement was a perfect storm for bankruptcy (Fine, 2004). The old REO plant was nominated as a historical landmark and had a contribution of one million dollars to turn the plant site into an industrial park as long as some of the plant was preserved as a piece of american history. A few months later a fire dropped the remaining building to the ground, some believe this to be a little too coincidental. Fine puts it painfully clear “By the start of 1980 there was nothing left on the site that had manufactured hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks, employed hundreds of thousands of people and been one of Lansing’s premier industries for more than 70 years. A few businesses occupy part of the space today, but most of it remains open and unoccupied, a testament to a city who cared little for those who worked there and less for its own history” (Fine, 2004).