“This photo shows R. Hopkins’ battery-powered car, thought to be Seattle’s first automobile. By 1916, when the photo was taken, people would have called Mr. Hopkins’ car old fashioned.” (PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle; All Rights Reserved)
It was on July 23, 1900, that R. Hopkins’ battery-powered car rolled into Seattle, says HistoryLink.
Hopkins got a lot of mileage out of his three-horsepower, battery-powered Woods Electric. He bought it in Chicago, drove it to San Francisco–that took five months–then traveled up to the Northwest, through Portland and Tacoma, on his way to Seattle. (The photo above was taken in 1916, so he got his money’s worth.)
He may well have been the trendsetter who introduced the Northwest to the joys of driving on unspoiled beaches. (In Washington, per Wikipedia: “ocean beaches are legally state highways with a general speed limit of 25 mph.” The more you know.)
Did you know that around 1899 to 1900, electric cars were the top-selling variety, beating out gas and steam? They were quiet and didn’t require you to mess with a gear shift (unlike gas) and you didn’t have to wait around for the steam pressure to build up on cold mornings.
Sure they only went about 20 miles on a charge, but for heaven’s sake, who would need to go farther than that? (If you did want to, you’d do what Hopkins did, and put your car on the train.) Woods Electric was in business for about 20 years.
MOHAI has a few different photos of Seattle’s electric car past–the electrics were popular with women drivers. Here’s an advertising image from 1917, illustrating how the discerning Capitol Hill resident got around.
Tesla’s Model S
If an alternate Rip Van Winkle woke up a century later in Seattle, he might be surprised by many things, but not necessarily that we’re overrun with hybrids, or by the Tesla showroom, along with a growing number of recharging stations. What might make him scratch his head is learning about how everyone switched to gasoline.
What was that all about?
It just goes to show that you never know. Yes, electrics are seeing a resurgence, but thanks to the U.S.’s success with fracking natural gas, so are natural-gas-powered vehicles. There are 130,000 or so driving around, says the New York Times. Notes The Economist approvingly, “Gas at $2.50 mBtu is the equivalent of a barrel of oil at $15 rather than $100.” That’s why it’s been suggested that the ferry system convert to natural gas.