Joy Riding in a Time Machine: The Electric Car

Baker Electric color advertisement with woman driver who is taking her husband to the country club golf course.
Baker Electric color advertisement with woman driver who is taking her husband to the country club golf course. “Life” magazine.

It was an important, innovative year…1912.

Beautiful machines…. Electric cars seemed to be the way of the future.

With well over 30,000 electric cars on the road by 1912, these beautiful automobiles had become increasingly popular. With a simple turn and push of a button or switch, they were easy to start and ran almost entirely without any sound or vibration whatsoever.  Considered maintenance free, there were neither odors nor emissions, since they were battery operated. Electric vehicles offered a more peaceful and luxurious way to get from one place to another within a 100 mile range

Out of all the electric car companies that year, Walter C. Baker’s cars were especially exquisite. They had beautifully appointed interiors. They were long-lasting with almost maintenance free construction.  They were considered exceptionally safe for women drivers and families.  Baker advertised his cars that year as the “aristocratic vehicle.” Elegant. Refined. They were luxuriously priced between two to three thousand dollars.

It is said that electric car sales overall peaked during 1912 and Baker Electric Motor-Vehicle Company was the leading electric car manufacturer in the United States.  The commercial illustration  was published below) that very year and its caption listed the many showrooms where Walter C. Baker’s fully electric, battery-operated cars and trucks were sold.  Showrooms were located in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Memphis, Cincinnati as well as Decatur, Illinois. Westward expansion was planned for Seattle and other cities throughout the United States.

Illustration from advertisement for Baker Electric Motor-Vehicle Company, Cleveland, Ohio. This full page advertisement was printed in
Illustration from advertisement for Baker Electric Motor-Vehicle Company, Cleveland, Ohio. This full page advertisement was printed in “Vogue” magazine’s special millinery edition dated September 1, 1912.

Walter C. Baker started his car company in 1897 at Cleveland, Ohio when he was 29 years old. Within the first few years, he designed the fastest fully electric racing car to promote his work in the electrics field. As its name suggested, The Road Torpedo was the first truly aerodynamic car design that entirely surrounded its drivers; encapsulating two men, the driver and the electrician or brakeman within its interior.  Baker’s Torpedo was the first car to successfully break the 100 mph land speed barrier during test runs along Ormond Beach, Florida.  Yet after several attempts…and while claiming to have hit 127 mph…the car crashed when its wheels fell off

Baker returned to his proverbial drafting table and finally went on to test a more powerful version of the Torpedo for racing at Staten Island, where he hoped to officially achieve the land speed record. The world’s fastest cars were set to race against time over a street course laid out by the Automobile Club of America and local aldermen. It was Memorial Day weekend, 1902.

When Baker’s car reached a speed of just over 100 mph, the Torpedo’s wheels caught on the trolley tracks that lay across a section of the otherwise paved road. Baker spun wildly out of control, and the Torpedo flew into the crowd of onlookers who lined the street as if watching a parade. Two people were killed instantly, and many were sent to hospital for serious injuries. This was the first time that spectators were injured during a mooring event….

Although Walter Baker’s speed reached the coveted record that day, the crash disqualified him… in fact, both he and his co-driver were arrested for murder after being extricated from the crash…although the charges were later dropped.

Walter Baker and his co-driver survived these crashes without injury due to the fact that they were belted into their seats. This seemingly simple and sensible idea was actually the very first recorded use of seat belts within automotive history.

Not long after,  Walter Baker left racing and focused on motor car design and sales, with extra emphasis on more genteel automobiles marketed to fashionable women drivers.

Commercial illustration for the Electric Vehicle Association of America published in
Commercial illustration for the Electric Vehicle Association of America published in “Vogue” magazine, millinery issue dated September 1, 1912. The association was created for the advancement of electric car commerce. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com

These exceedingly chic motor cars featured luxurious seating, interior curtains, small vases for flower arrangements and demure built-in make-up vanities. The stylish cars traveled about 100 miles before requiring a charge and drove along at a more socially acceptable speed of about 25 mph.

Entirely battery-operated and connected to charging stations between use, Baker’s electric cars started with a simple turn and push of a switch and a button.

This was quite unlike gasoline operated motor vehicles in comparison.  Several hard, strong turns on heavy cranks were usually required to get the gas automobile going, and for safety reasons, cranking was done with the left arm. One also needed accurate knowledge of just how to adjust a choke…and if the car backfired, the crank would swing fast, hard and unexpectedly in the opposite direction. This often resulted in serious injuries, and the most common were broken hands, arms or dislocated shoulders.  Therefore, the elegant electric starters on battery operated cars were huge selling factors for Baker’s company, as well as for his competitors.

Because of the ornate, elaborate fashions worn by women at the time, electric cars were the obvious and the sensible choice for women who drove.  Baker realized this and his marketing strategies in advertising and promotions were centered on a more feminine approach. Therefore, today we find ample electric automobile advertising, and related motoring sports articles, in women’s fashion magazines.

Actual photograph of one of Baker's first electric automobiles, 1901. Thanks to the Automotive Research Library, La Mesa, CA www.hcfi.org
Actual photograph of one of Baker’s first electric automobiles, 1901. Thanks to the Automotive Research Library, La Mesa, CA http://www.hcfi.org

Yet, by the time the above 1912 advertisement appeared in Vogue magazine’s early autumn millinery issue, Baker’s electric cars were also marketed with professional men in mind. The ad states that Baker cars fit well for town and professional uses of men as for the social uses of women. 

These marketing changes were a little too late for Baker’s electric vehicles. Only a page or two away and in nearly every other fashionable magazine that September, gasoline powered vehicle makers were advertising electric starters for their new 1913 automobile models. Electric starters had just been invented and were being mass produced by Charles Kettering at his Dayton Electric Company in Ohio. By the end of 1912,  electric starters were being implemented on gasoline engines throughout the automotive industry.

Illustrated advertisement for the upcoming 1913 Haynes gasoline motor vehicles with newly invented electric starters and lighting from Vogue Millinery Number, September 1, 1912.
Illustrated advertisement for the upcoming 1913 Haynes gasoline motor vehicles with newly invented electric starters and lighting from Vogue Millinery Number, September 1, 1912. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com

One of Baker’s most aggressive competitors was Haynes Automobile Company from Kokomo, Indiana.  In their advertising published only a few pages away from the Baker’s Electrics ad, they announced:

“The new electric starting and electric lighting equipment, now an integral part of every Haynes, removes the only obstacle that has kept the gasoline car from being “a woman’s car.” You could handle the new Model 22 Haynes just as well as any man. The starting crank is done away with. Getting out in the road to light lamps is done away with. Start the car – every time– and light car, right from the driver’s seat. It is a wonderfully complete automobile.” – Haynes

By the end of 1913, nearly every gasoline powered automotive company was advertising some type of electrical starter and Walter Baker’s company was faced with a rapid downward spiral in fully electric auto sales.

Gasoline automobiles could travel further distances and at faster speeds than Baker’s original designs, such as those advertised in the autumn 1912 magazines. Most gasoline auto makers  converted immediately to the newly invented electric starters and even the lesser priced cars were soon advertising some type of electrical controls. The Overland Roadster, priced at $675 during March of 1916, advertised that the electrical control-box on the steering-column is operated by buttons instead of switches.

Commercial illustration by unknown artist for the Model 83-B Overland Roadster from the Willys-Overland Company, Toledo, Ohio. Page 29, The Designer Magazine, March 1916. Enhanced image. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com
Overland Roadster 1916. Commercial illustration by unknown artist for the Model 83-B Overland Roadster from the Willys-Overland Company, Toledo, Ohio. Page 29, The Designer Magazine, March 1916. Enhanced image. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com

Within slightly over a year from the time the Baker’s Electrics 1912 advertisement was published in Vogue magazine, Henry Ford improved automotive line production capabilities and a new car could be made every 93 minutes. Soon, Baker’s downward spiral turned into a kind of black hole for electric cars overall.

By 1916, Walter Baker stopped electric car production entirely.  Although he worked within the automotive industry for much of his remaining life, he eventually retired; a wealthy man. He lived in Cleveland, Ohio until his death during 1955…living long enough to witness the progress of gasoline motorized vehicles and the total demise of the electric car….

Yet today the time machine still whirs.  In a world faced with such great economic and environmental concerns, the demand and technologies for electric cars have returned….


Original text & photographs ©2015 Julia Henri
Please use citations and references to The Gilded Times.
http://www.thegildedtimes.wordpress.com



Greetings From 1915 to 2015! Happy New Year!

GOOD-LUCK-2015
Image from New Year Suggestions by Marjorie March in her monthly column about creative ideas for proper entertaining in the home from  The Modern Priscilla,  January 1915.

Women’s columnist Marjorie March wrote for her readers exactly a century ago today.

Her peaceful wishes now echo into our modern world filled with texting, selfies, blogging and all else.  What will people think about our words 100 years from now?

A century is not such a long time.

While I visited an elderly friend in a nursing facility recently, a staff member told me about a woman named Elizabeth who was about to turn 104 years old.  The staffer was concerned because the lady was unusually distraught and had tried to communicate, but no one could make sense of what she was trying to say.  So, before I left, I quietly slipped into Elizabeth’s room.

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth, and Happy New Year,” I said to her softly.

Barely awake, her reply was a rather pitiful whimper.  Trying to be pleasant,  I didn’t expect an answer when I whispered if she remembered her favorite Christmas present from when she was a little girl.  After a moment or two without a response, I started to put on my coat to leave.

Her voice called out then, clear and loud.

“My china doll! Please! I want my china doll!”

I felt mildly panicked, realizing that I had unintentionally agitated her. Not knowing quite what to do, I hoped that I had nothing to lose when I hurried back to her bedside and whispered softly in her ear, “Elizabeth? Can you see the Christmas tree behind the doors in the parlor? The candles are lit and your doll is waiting for you there! Right theresee? She is on the floor under the tree!”

sign-name-2015
Visiting card design as illustrated in Marjorie March’s 1915 home style column from The Modern Priscilla. The illustration is a scroll designed to be a New Year’s resolution contract between friends. The idea was that the card would be signed by both individuals as a reminder to stay in touch throughout 1915.

I waited for her reaction.

Silence. Her tiny body and expressionless face were coiled up in the bed.

I barely breathed and waited nervously.  When all of a sudden, Elizabeth’s face twitched and her wrinkles spread into a wide smile.  She sighed sweetly and pulled her blankets close to her chest, gathered in such a way like when a child does while holding her most precious toy.

For that brief moment, I watched Elizabeth live again as she did 100 years ago. Beyond the aged body, she was 3 or 4 years old and standing in the twinkling light of a Christmas tree with her family, holding her little china head doll close to her heart.

No, a century is not such a long time.

The publication The Modern Priscilla from 1915 was very much like our contemporary magazines that we subscribe to today by iPhone or at least peruse while standing in checkout lines.  Similar to Martha Stewart Living and other current publications, The Modern Priscilla offered recipes, personal finance tips and elaborate directions for home made fashion and household accessories.

CLOCK-2015
Design for correspondence cards, also termed visiting cards, from January 1915 issue of Modern Priscilla.

Elizabeth’s mother likely read from her own copy of this popular January 1915 women’s magazine.  Perhaps she tried her hand at making the “correspondence cards” or visiting cards that were described in Marjorie March’s column. She might have also decorated their family dining table using Marjorie’s advice on how to create the centerpiece with “a little ship piled with bonbons and goodiesthe white sail bearing the sign ” All Aboard for 1915!”

The year 1915 would prove to have significant historic moments.  After The House of Representatives rejected the proposal to give women the right to vote on January 12, the news in February focused on the opening of the World’s Fair in San Francisco.

As the First World War continued to rage,  many hundreds of lives were lost in the United States due to some of the worst weather conditions ever recorded. During August, a hurricane killed 275 people in Galveston, Texas and another 275 lives were lost during a similar catastrophe in the Mississippi Delta region that September.  In Nevada, a 7.8 earthquake was recorded and remains one of the most historic to date.

On a more innocent note…. Quite unlike the china dolls that Elizabeth once had, the cloth Raggedy Ann was introduced to the world that year when writer and illustrator Johnny Gruelle achieved a patent for her. Babe Ruth hit his first home run.  According to most biographies, Muddy Waters was born in the spring. Then Orson Welles came into the world about a month later.  Charlie Chaplin released several silent films, including The Tramp (Le Vagabond)  while Claude Monet painted in his garden.

Marjorie March’s simple column about entertaining in the home  expressed the best advice for the New Year.  A century ago today,  she advised her readers to not underestimate “the measureless value of time spent unselfishly for another.” 

 

Like all the years before us and for all the years to come, dramatic events in our lives will create change. It is up to us to pay heed to our past and learn from our mistakes. Yet, and perhaps most important of all, is to remember and learn from the goodness as well as the greatness we’ve achieved.

May we take the world’s news during 2015 in stride and with confidence that we can surmount the greatest challenges, and with the faith that we can continue to make goodness no matter how seemingly small the gesture…because a century is not a very long time at all.

 

Ghostly Sounds From Christmas Past: Merry Christmas Eve!

This recording dates to
December 24, 1914.

…100 years ago today…

Please enjoy the authentic,
haunting sounds of Christmas Past.

May we all respectfully join together
and work for a peaceful Future!

Happy Holidays!

From Cylinder Christmas found at iTunes.

Below: Unusual postcard from circa 1915 depicts woman as St. Nicholas.

original-post-card-X,as

The First GPS and Trendy High Tech Toys for Automobiles Dated 1912

 

Stevens-Duryea Model C-Six automobile as advertised in September 1, 1912 special millinery issue of Vogue Magazine. The Steven-Duryea was advertised between $4500 to $5950. Compare this to the fact that the average US worker made $200-$400 annuallly...a more educated mechanical engineer took home about $5000.  Image enhanced. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com
Illustration of Stevens-Duryea Model C-Six automobile as advertised in September 1, 1912 special millinery issue of Vogue magazine,  listed between $4500 to $5950. Compare this car’s price to statistics showing that the average US worker made $200-$400 annually that year, while well-educated mechanical engineers’ salaries were $5000.  Image digitally enhanced for clarity.  thegildedtimes.wordpress.com


If you wanted the latest high tech toy in 1912, it would have been a GPS for your car. Then came the swanky odometers, nouveau speedometers and celluloid covered, leather bound road maps.

 

The Jones Live Map directional GPS device offered a real time way to get from here to there without getting lost. This was essential during an era when few roads were paved and there were few places to find gasoline along the way.  It was tricky to even find the shortest route to your destination and most drivers were well aware that their romantic motoring adventures could quickly become disastrous.

While there is a certain amount of fascination in touring through an unfamiliar part of the country and in wondering what will be the view in store for us just around the corner, the driver must be forewarned of dangerous turns and steep hills, and must be ready to take this road or that at the next fork.

There are poor roads of course as well as good, and the average motorist ought to keep to the latter, even though the scenery on the better highways may not be as picturesque.

The roads of this country are being improved at the rate of thousands of miles a year, and a route  which may be almost impassable one season may be converted into a fine boulevard the next.

Unknown journalist.
All quotes from “The Conquering of New Roads.”
Vogue magazine,  Millinery Number,  September 1, 1912

Jones Live Map was originally invented by J.W. Jones during the year 1909 and was readily available to motorists by 1912. The device was directly attached to the outer edge of the car, next to the steering wheel on the driver’s side. The Live Map was a fairly large, brass receptacle that held a celluloid disc, and this was connected by a cable to the front wheel of the car in such a manner that it will rotate at a proportionate speed.

The “live map” consists of a celluloid disc marked off on its outer edge with the various touring data included in that section. The distances between cross-roads, turns, hills, or whatever other road marks, are indicated and are placed in their proper relation to each other.

A pointer on the receptacle indicates the position of the car as long as one adheres to the prescribed route.

When the route is again taken up after a deviation has been made, the Live Map may be set so that the indicator will point to that locality at which the main highway is again followed. 

Thus it requires but a glance at the point to determine the exact location of the car.

The Live Map’s celluloid discs were marked with enough information to map out about 100 miles. Once that section had been traveled, the driver would stop the car and replace the disc with the next one in the series. This continued until the desired destination was reached. Celluloid was considered stronger than paper maps, easier to keep clean and dry, and was decidedly richer in appearance.

The first GPS:  Jones Live Map. "A live map, in and out of its case, that does all of the computing." Quote from "The Conquering of New Roads." No author listed. Image scanned from Vogue magazine, special millinery issue, September 1, 1912. Digitally enhanced for clarity. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com
The first GPS: Jones Live Map. “A live map, in and out of its case, that does all of the computing.” Quotes and images from “The Conquering of New Roads.” No author listed. Image scanned from Vogue magazine, special millinery issue, September 1, 1912. Digitally enhanced for clarity. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com

Interestingly enough, a Jones Live Map, with its celluloid discs, went up for bid at Boston’s Skinner Auction House during the summer of 2006. It sold for $764. In contrast, during the summer of 1912,  Henry Ford’s Model T car was selling for just about the very same price.

Rand-McNally, a familiar company in today’s world, produced the very first paper road maps only 8 years before this article was published. Vogue advises fashionable drivers who own luxury roadsters that they should certainly store their newest maps in one of the showy, expensive, leather bound cases. These were designed so that paper maps were slipped into a broad pouch and then read through a protective celluloid cover.

To one who has tried to turn the pages of a road map in the strong wind created by the rapid travel of the car, this celluloid covering, that holds the leaves in place and at the same time protects them from dust, mud and rain, will strongly appeal.

The prices for these elegant road maps were quoted as $1.50, $2.50 or $3 depending upon the style, quality of leather and the custom color schemes created to match the vehicle. It is curious to note that while Vogue featured this $3 mapping luxury,  textile mill employees at Lawrence, Massachusetts made about $8 per 56-hour work week that year.

"A leather case with a celluloid front to hold the indispensable road map." Quotes and images from "The Conquering of New Roads." No author listed. Image scanned from Vogue magazine, special millinery issue, September 1, 1912. Digitally enhanced for clarity. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com
“A leather case with a celluloid front to hold the indispensable road map.”
Quotes and images from “The Conquering of New Roads.” No author listed. Image scanned from Vogue magazine, special millinery issue, September 1, 1912. Digitally enhanced for clarity. thegildedtimes.wordpress.com

Swanky speedometers with odometers topped off the list of glamorous gadgets. If installed correctly, they provided drivers with trip figures and just the right mathematics in order to accurately follow paper road maps.  The large sized speedometers also provided amusement to passengers who could watch along to see just how fast they were going. In fact, it was suggested that a second speedometer might be placed within the car so that everyone could see the speedand the time.

The modern speedometer is a handsome brass or nickel-plated instrument that is an ornament to any car. In addition to the speed which it constantly  indicates, and the total and daily mileage which is registered, it may be combined with an eight-day clock of the finest design and construction.

The face of the clock is equal to the size of the speedometer, and the dial and figures are thus sufficiently large to enable the time to be read from any part of the car.

For night driving, the dials of the speedometer and the clock are provided with small electric lights places in brass tubes in such a manner that the rays are thrown directly on the figures.

Although we traditionally remember the year 1912 due to the sinking of the Titanicperhaps even more historic were the technological concepts that were introduced that year. Now over a century later, there are few working examples of the Jones Live Map or other mapping devices left. However,  their innovative concepts are forever part of our everyday life.