Amex and Budweiser rode on electric trucks 100 years ago

A surprising list of America’s electric vehicle believers from 1913

After a slow start around 1895, total electric vehicle sales in America reached the $30 million mark in 1913. Of the 30,000 electric vehicles sold, some 20,000 were cars or ‘pleasure vehicles’, and the rest for commercial use. Businesses using these wagons or trucks were not mavericks but expert bean-counters, some of whom are around to this day.

Just 41 of these business establishments owned 1,759 electric vehicles at the time, and four had fleet sizes of 100 or more. Needless to say, they had invested in the vehicles after careful trials. The American Express Company, for instance, had placed orders for more than 80 electric chassis after trialing 20-odd vehicles.

Electrics were known to be durable, as this comment shows: “95% of all the commercial electric vehicles installed during the past eight years are successfully operating, while several installations show over 15 years of actual service.” Even the US government had more than 75 electric trucks at the time.

The believers were gung-ho: “The growing demand, it is safe to predict, will, within a few years, assume tremendous proportions, coming, as it will, from all the public-service corporations, from all branches of mercantile lines, including transportation companies and express companies, and for municipal use under the following departments: street cleaning and removal of garbage, fire trucking and service wagons, police patrol and ambulance, hospital ambulances, and service wagons.

The best laid plans of mice and men… Here’s the list of major electric truck/wagon owners from 1913:

list
US companies and their electric vehicles in 1913

Up there with the biggest fleet is Adams Express Company, which is now called Adams Diversified Equity Fund, and has not handled shipments in a while. American Express Company is another famous ex-transporter that transformed and thrived as a financial services company. New York Edison Company lives on as Con Edison, powering New York City.

Gimbel Brothers downed shutters 30 years ago, but America’s oldest Thanksgiving Day parade, which it promoted, goes on. Tiffany & Co is famous, so is General Electric, but its 1913 electric fleet could have been bigger. Siegel-Cooper and Macy’s were fierce retail rivals (their story is told in this blog); Macy’s won.

Even if the other names don’t ring a bell, the last one, Anheuser Busch Company, will be recognised wherever Budweiser beer is sold. America’s largest brewer seemed to be moving a lot of beer barrels on those 57 electrics even then.

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