Washington, DC streets and parking garages are packed with tens of thousands of cars on any given day. Out of all those cars how often do you glimpse an EV? And how many electric vehicles do you think there are in the city? Several hundred maybe?
Imagine there were over 750 electric cars within the District of Columbia. Would that surprise you? Well, 100 years ago, the Washington Post reported in an article published in November 1913, that there were 756 electric pleasure cars in use in Washington, DC. Compare that to 497 electric vehicle registrations in the metropolitan Washington region reported by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments as of June 2012.
The Electric Vehicle Association of America revealed at their 1913 annual convention that the city of Washington ranked fifth in the number of electric cars in personal use. Chicago was number one with 2,500 electric cars, Los Angeles was second with 1,000 and Denver and Detroit had about 800 each. Some of the reasons that Washington was said to be a popular place for battery-driven cars were the well paved streets, social life and moderate climate.
The cost to recharge electric vehicle batteries in Washington was reported to be the lowest among cities in the US. Many electric vehicles in cities were kept in large garages that would house the cars and maintain and charge the batteries and deliver them when the owners called.
By April 1915 there were over 1,000 electric vehicles in DC and four car dealers that exclusively sold electrics. The Washington Post reported that prior to the arrival of the electric dealers, agencies that sold mostly gas-powered cars would put one or two electric cars in a back corner and only sold them when someone specifically asked for an electric.
Even back then, people had to be reassured that electric vehicles were capable of making longer trips. Readers were reminded that, "Laurel, Rockville, Great Falls, Upper Marlboro, Brandywine, Olney, or even La Plata and Gaithersburg are within an afternoon's drive in an electric." On July 25, 1913, Bruce Emerson of Emerson and Orme, a Detroit Electric dealer in DC, made a highly publicized trip to Baltimore and back, 82 miles on one charge, to demonstrate the capabilities of the car.
The popularity of electric vehicles peaked around 1915 and history has largely neglected the stories of the early EVs. On May 27th, 2013 we plan to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Electric Sociability Run where 54 of the electric vehicles in Washington gathered in Rock Creek Park for a picnic. For more information and to register, visit the Electric Sociability Run event page on MDVolt.org.