1909 Baker Electric
May 25, 2007 1:11 PM
Although a crude electric carriage was originally created in Scotland in the late 1830s, the first functional electric car in the United States was produced in 1891. For the next decade, the clean, quiet electric car was the king of the road. In 1899, an electric car broke the vehicular land speed record, and by 1900, there were more electric cars than any other kind in the U.S., accounting for 38% of the nation’s car market.
In 1898, the same year that gasoline-powered vehicles first appeared, automotive innovator Walter C. Baker started the Baker Motor Vehicle Company in Cleveland, Ohio to produce his electric cars. His company went on to manufacture more electric vehicles than any other company in history, despite the fact that it ceased production of them in 1916. Baker presented the first ever shaft-driven automobile at the first American auto show at Madison Square Garden, and is said to have sold his first electric car to Thomas Edison, who developed its batteries. Jay still uses his 1909 Baker’s original Edison batteries. He just washes them out occasionally and refills them, and they work fine.
The essentially maintenance-free Baker Electric was a high coupe with carriage styling, brass fittings and tillers instead of steering wheels. With no cranks, no fumes and no mess, the cars were very appealing to women, and were soon designed and marketed specifically to them. Stepping into a Baker was a little like stepping into a very small parlor - Jay’s Baker even includes a small make-up compact with mirror attached to an interior wall. It’s not surprising that it’s his wife’s favorite car, even if it is a little bit like riding in a phone booth.
One charge will take the car about 110 miles, which isn’t much different from contemporary EVs. This is one car you don’t want to take on the freeway, and it’s not so great on hills either. The top speed of Jay’s car is about 25 mph, which is probably a good thing, since it only has rear brakes. Back in the day, Baker became the first man to travel at 100 mph in his electric “Torpedo,” but a fatal accident during the trial kept him from claiming the record and making any further attempts to win it. When Charles Kettering invented the electric starter in 1912, and Henry Ford began mass producing gasoline powered cars which cost half as much as the average electric, Baker’s days were numbered. Still, it’s difficult to believe there aren’t more electric cars on the road today.