Electric Cars… of the 1890s and Early 1900s

What goes around comes around. Are you dreaming of purchasing a Tesla or some other all-electric automobile? Your great-great-grandfather might approve of your following in his footsteps.

Here are a few examples of early electric automobiles that may have been purchased by our ancestors:


1902 Studebaker electric automobile


1903 Krieger

The Krieger was perhaps the first hybrid automobile. Made in France, it featured front wheel drive with two electric motors, each directly attached to the hub of a front wheel. It was ahead of its time with power steering and a petrol engine that supplemented the battery pack. Details may be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krieger_Company_of_Electric_Vehicles.


1903 Baker Electric – Notice that there is no steering wheel. it was steered with a tiller, visible above in front of the driver’s seat on the left of the vehicle.


The 1909 Baker Electric Suburban Runabout still used a tiller instead of a steering wheel. Information about Baker Electric automobiles may be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baker_Motor_Vehicle.


Thomas Edison examines an (unnamed) electric automobile in 1913.


An electric automobile built by English inventor Thomas Parker. The date of the above photo is unknown but Parker’s company built electric autos from 1882 to 1888.

Scherl Bilderdienst Verkehrswesen Droschken, elektrische 3024 04, Morris ADN-ZB-Archiv Eine elektrische Droschke, bei der der Chauffeur auf einem erhˆhten Sitz hinter seinem Fahrgast thront. Aufnahme 1904 3024-04

This 1904 German Electric Automobile shows the chauffeur sitting above and to the rear of his passengers.


In 1908, on the twentieth anniversary of the electric car, Oliver Parker Fritchle drove one of his company’s new Victoria Phaeton automobiles (shown above) in a cross-country automotive endurance run, the AAA National Reliability Tour. He drove the 1,800 miles in 29 days. An advertisement for his electric automobiles is shown below:



An article from the New York Times of October 13, 1906.


A Studebaker advertisement from 1903


An ad for the 1908 Studebaker Victoria Phaeton


An example of today’s electric automobiles. The above is a Tesla.

Perhaps great-great-granddad was simply ahead of his time.


Baker Electric eventually was purchased by Otis Elevator. My dad worked for them in the 1960s in Cleveland, Ohio. I remember a magazine ad in their lobby showing two women trying to start a car. One was dressed in black (long dress, big hat), and had to turn the crank on the car to start it (implying it was a dirty job). The other woman was dressed all in white, also long dress and big hat, and was shown sitting in the car with her hand on the dashboard (presumably on a start button of some kind). An obvious appeal to the woman in the family!


Why did not these cars take off?


As a kid growing up in Upstate NY I remember two ladies (not young) riding in an electric car in town. I don’t recall ever seeing an electric in normal operation other than that one. Thanks to genealogy I discovered years later there ladies were distant cousins. The 1913 electric car reminds me of what these ladies drove but I suspect it was a later model.


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