Seattle and electric cars have had a 100-year love affair

Photo by permission: Museum of History and Industry

With King County Metro currently considering replacement of Seattle’s electric trolley buses with diesel-powered stinkers, there’s odd synchronicity in running across this photo of electric cars on the streets of First Hill in 1913. Pictured here are five electric automobiles parked in front of the home of Seattle printing pioneer Clarence Hanford. 


The Hanford home was located on the northwest corner of Summit and Spring. This view is on Summit looking south. The cars appear to be a model manufactured by Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago; Here’s an old Woods ad, see what you think.  The first automobile in Seattle (also electric, also by Woods) arrived in 1900.

Clarence Hanford and his business partner James Lowman were civic and business leaders in early Seattle. Their firm Lowman and Hanford Stationery and Printing was the printer for the all of the city’s newspapers for years.  Conveniently, Hanford’s elder brother was the publisher of the Seattle Intelligencer. The firm’s original building in Pioneer Square  was burned in the Great Fire of 1889, but they were able to start printing again within 2 weeks.  

A strange footnote to this photo is a 1914 lawsuit against Clarence Hanford regarding an automobile accident. According to court record, Clarence Hanford’s son Lauron, then 18, injured a newsboy while driving his dad’s automobile. The newsboy’s father, seeing potential for a windfall, sued Hanford for $5,500. The result was an award of $500, equal to the newsboy’s medical expenses plus an estimated $100 in loss of tips.

Nationwide, production of electric vehicles peaked in 1912. Besides the increase in safety of gas-powered cars after the invention of an electric start, cost was surely a factor as well. In 1913 an electric roadster sold for $1,750 while a gas-powered auto sold for $650. Some things haven’t changed.

 What’s in this spot now? The location of the Hanford home is now a parking lot. One more bit of synchronicity.


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5 thoughts on “Seattle and electric cars have had a 100-year love affair

  1. These historical postings really resonate with me and are a great addition to the blog. I remember a posting a while back about the old Piggly Wiggly on 15th. Now, whenever I walk through that area, I think about what used to be there. This posting will serve the same purpose. …But how disappointing to see the “after” photo. All of this “progress” is killing us.

  2. We forget how in the 1970ies – 1980ies all those old residential buildings on the Hills (Capitol and First) were totally out of fashion. They sold dirt cheap, often got torn down and just in general were not well regarded and not worth keeping.

    Many of the very finest old homes on First Hill were eaten by the freeway. Others were just torn down rather than be upgraded or maintained. Since they were cheap, folks did not invest all the real big time cash to remodel … painting, landscaping, wiring, kitchens, baths, insulation, foundations, roofs, etc.

    Weird, today we treasure them … and they sell for premium dollar, upgraded or not.