If you’ve cruised down Colfax Avenue in Denver lately, you’ve likely noticed the growing number of electric cars rolling along the thoroughfare. And while some people may still associate electric cars with “The Jetsons” or Elon Musk, historians will note that this mode of transportation is firmly rooted in Colorado’s past.
More than a century ago, you could often spot electric cars making the same trek on Colfax Avenue thanks to inventor Oliver Parker Fritchle. The forward-thinking businessman was born in Ohio in 1874 and moved to Colorado in 1899. Four years later, he started a company that made electric storage batteries. In 1905, Fritchle began cranking out models of an electric car and, eventually, made cars that he promised could run for 100 miles without charging.
He was right. Plus, the battery even recharged itself when the car was coasting. The Fritchle Automobile and Battery Company set up shop on Colfax Avenue and Fritchle’s cars were driven by Denverites eager for the next-new-thing, including Margaret “Molly” Brown. The company business model relied on manufacturing the batteries and most of the parts for the vehicles. And he set up a charging station in Denver for customers eager to get back on the road.
The cars were also fast (in 1906, a Fritchle beat other cars in a Loretto Heights hill climb). With the popularization of the self-starter for gasoline-powered vehicles in 1916, Fritchle’s car business faltered and stalled out. But Fritchle would continue inventing and spent many years working on wind electricity plants. Now, you can view one of Fritchle’s cars in the Denver A to Z exhibition at the History Colorado Center in Denver. And you can see the influence of his work, and other historic electric car makers, on roads and in driveways all across Colorado today.
Hit the Road!
If you’re inspired to tour Colorado in an electric car, like the people in this photograph, it is becoming increasingly easier to do so thanks to charging stations around the state. Might we suggest coordinating your next trip along one of Colorado’s twenty-six Scenic and Historic Byways? These roadways connect Colorado’s past and present—and some just so happen to take travelers near several of our community museums, including the Ute Indian Museum via the West Elk Loop and the Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center via the Los Caminos Antiguos. Happy trails!