The electric automobile has slowly gained popularity over the last decade. Advancements in battery technology has made the electric car more practical and reliable. While Colorado isn’t known for automobile manufacturing, it wouldn’t be surprising that an electric car manufacturer would set up shop in Denver. How long ago do you think that was?
Oliver Parker Fritchle, a chemist and electrical engineer developed a battery that allowed the electric car to compete with the gas engine. Opening his manufacturing plant on Colfax Avenue, he started producing the Fritchle Electric, selling cars to Denver’s elite. His big competitor was Ford, but not today’s manufacturing giant Ford Motor Company as we now know it. No, in fact Oliver Fritchle competed directly with the founder of the company, Henry Ford, 115 years ago!
At the turn of the century there were about 1,800 car manufacturers in the country. At that time there was no clear winner between gas and electric cars. Electric cars were already in use in some areas, with up to a third of all cars on the road being electric. Many thought the gas-powered vehicles were noisy, smelled bad, and uncomfortable: the engine often rattled the entire car.
Fritchle believed he could build a better electric car than what was currently being produced and sold his first electric car in 1906. His new battery design was far superior than the competitors and he quickly began manufacturing and selling the “100 Mile Fritchle” to Denver’s social elite.
One major drawback to the 100 Mile Fritchle: the price tag was three times the cost of a gas-powered vehicle, so only the wealthy Denverites could afford them. One of Molly Brown’s favorite cars was a Fritchle; she was often seen driving hers around Denver.
So confident in his batteries, Fritchle claimed the car could go 100 miles on a single overnight charge and challenged other manufacturers to match his distance. With that, he staged a promotional trip, taking a $2,000 base model Fritchle Victoria from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York City. The 1,800 mile trip, over dirt roads, terrible roads, and non-existent roads was completed in 20 days. He never broke down and only had one flat tire.
The car was a success, but the price tag was the downfall. Fritchle sold about 500 cars before shutting down around 1917. Henry Ford’s new Model T, built on an assembly line, had significantly reduced the cost of an internal combustion engine-powered automobile, putting the entire electric car industry out of business.
One of the only known Fritchle Electric cars in existence today is on display at History Colorado in Denver, Colorado. You can actually walk over to this museum from the Golden Triangle Auto Care shop! Fritchle’s manufacturing facility still stands today at Colfax and Clarkson. Over the years it has been a roller-skating rink, warehouse, market, night club, and event center. Today it serves as a popular live music venue, the Fillmore Auditorium.
While electric vehicles are gaining traction slowly, we are here to service your internal combustion engine-driven vehicle. Golden Triangle Auto Care in Downtown Denver, Colorado is here to serve your automotive maintenance and repair needs, so give us a call today at 303-573-1335.