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.