by Ramona K. Cecil
|Waverly Electric Car|
Last year my daughter Kelly bought a Prius. She likes to brag about her hybrid car’s great gas mileage. What she might not know is that electric cars are not a new conception. In fact, electric cars were tooling around the cities and towns of America over one hundred years ago. It might also interest my daughter to know that one of the first electric cars was produced here in our own state of Indiana.
In 1898 the Waverly Company of Indianapolis, which had earlier produced bicycles under the name of The Indiana Bicycle Company, produced its first electric car; the electric Stanhope. Between 1898 and the company's demise in 1914, Waverly produced over a hundred different models of vehicles including wagons (trucks)with prices that ranged from $900 to $3,500.
The Stanhope was actually a two-seater buggy with tiller steering and was powered by an electric battery. The manufacturer bragged that their vehicle could travel up to forty miles at a dizzying top speed of fourteen-miles per hour. The Stanhope was favored by physicians of the time and is said to be the first car driven in the U.S. by a woman when Genevra Delphine Mudge drove her Waverly electric along New York city streets in 1898. While that historic benchmark might appeal to my daughter, I doubt that the Stanhope would work well for her in modern day Indianapolis traffic.
In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, however, the Waverly electric car was a wonder. In a 1912 advertisement for their model Silent Limousine-Five, the company touted the benefits of owning one of their vehicles; no noise, smoke, gasoline odor, or oil spatters, it bragged. Sounds a bit like ads for electric cars today, doesn’t it? In 1912, however, there would have been no mention of cup holders, heated seats, or hands-free bluetooth phone options. Instead, the 1912 ad speaks of passenger comfort as well as the car's gentleness on clothing during a night out on the town: “Delicate Gowns Not Marred In This Roomy Electric. Your party for reception, theater or ball, may number five adults, yet no gown will be marred or even crushed.” Though automobile ads of today often tout ample “leg room,” you'll rarely hear claims of unmarred gowns.
|Ad for Waverly Silent Limousine Five|
One 1900 model Waverly had a front seat that faced the rear of the vehicle. The driver sat in the front-facing back seat and operated the steering lever, making it easy to converse with passengers. Yikes! And they warn today about the dangers of texting while driving!
By 1901, Waverly Electric had vehicles with three different sized motors to choose from; a two-passenger runabout with a 1.5HP motor, the Phaeton and Stanhope with a 2.5HP motor, and the Brougham with a 3.5HP motor. The Brougham also had an electric heater. Now that’s a feature Kelly would appreciate.
In 1903 Albert Augustus Pope, manufacturer of the Columbia electric car bought Waverly and the Indianapolis company became Pope-Waverly.
Electric cars of the early 1900s were particularly advertised to women as they claimed to be easy to start, drive, and maintain. One ad enticed potential female buyers with the promise “No complications. Turn on the power and steer.” Despite the compelling ads, I have to wonder how many ladies actually found an electric car under their Christmas tree and how many brides received a Waverly electric as a gift from their grooms.
Some of the famous people to own a Waverly electric car were financier Diamond Jim Brady, author Willa Cather, African-American hair care entrepreneur, Madam C.J. Walker, author and Civil War officer, General Lew Wallace, and inventor Thomas Edison, who developed one of the Waverly car batteries.
|Madam C.J. Walker driving her daughter and others in her Waverly Electric Car|
Today, my Prius-owning accountant daughter might consider the Pope-Waverly far ahead of its time. Could I see Kelly tooling around Indianapolis in a Waverly electric dressed in early 1900 garb? Probably not, though everyone in the family agrees she looks great in hats.
Ramona K. Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories in her home state of