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MetroMPG 08-14-2008 10:58 AM

Family friend's 1901 pic: NYC Hotel Bartholdi 20 passenger electric sightseeing bus
I had the chance to drive a 94 year old family friend in my electric car yesterday - her first ride in one. ("It's so quiet!", "It runs only on electricity from the batteries?", "How far can you drive?")

When we got to her home, she pointed to a picture on the wall: "That's my mother riding in an electric car in New York City".

Click for medium size (139 kb); large size (490 kb) of this image.

The story:

"This picture was taken in New York in 1901 when my mother Flora Belle Asselstine was visiting her sister Ethel who was a nurse in New York - at National Chemical Bank. They are the two ladies in the second row. Flora Belle on the outside & Ethel beside her."
The picture shows an appropriately named, open 20 passenger (plus driver) sight-seeing bus with what appears to be direct chain drive from an electric motor to the right rear double wheel (solid tires):
Click for medium size (76 kb); large size (310 kb) of this image.

There's what looks like a large battery compartment below the floorboards, between the front & rear wheels.

Written on the side of the bus:
Green Car Sight Seeing Service
B-way & 23rd St.
Hotel Bartholdi
I was surprised to see there's also a swastika painted smack between "B-way" and "23rd St" on the side. Recall that the picture was taken well before the icon was co-opted by the Nazis.

Printed on the back of the photo is a drawing showing the Stock Exchange (Looking North on Broad Street, below Wall Street), the Sailors & Soldiers Memorial (Riverside Drive), and the words:
Broadway and Twenty-Third Street
"The Green Cars"
A web search turned up nothing about this vehicle.

Google search of "Hotel Bartholdi"

greenitup 08-14-2008 04:59 PM

sweet, where can i get one? :thumbup:
bet it is really slow. :turtle:

MetroMPG 08-14-2008 10:33 PM

It *was* electric.

An Ottawa EV Association member with better search skills than mine found these:

There is another photo of one like it (same company) at
Connecticut History Online : Item Viewer

and yet another from the fleet at


also on e-bay look up item # 150245997260

MetroMPG 08-14-2008 10:34 PM

greenitup: bet you're right!

bennelson 08-14-2008 11:32 PM

Great photo and info! Thanks for posting that!

Other bits of info

1. In 1901, there were MORE electric cars than gasoline powered.

2. The first Taxi cab in New York City to get a speeding ticket was electric.

3. The swastika is a very old symbol for good luck and prosperity going back to the Babylonians, only later being used by the Christians in the form of the cross, and later still as the symbol of the National Socialist party. (rotated 1/8 turn from the version you see on the car)

4. I love that it says "Green" right on this electric car!

RH77 08-15-2008 12:01 AM

You can't put a price on "living history". I bet she has seen some changes over the years.

Mr. Nelson is correct -- for example, the first LA Auto Show (1907) featured several electrics.

But on the West Coast (and Cambridge, Mass) in North America, you'll often find the latest generation of those electric buses -- just with a couple tethers...

Called "Trolleybuses", the twin cantilever design allows lane changes, turns, and superior propulsion in hilly terrain.
San Francisco Electric Bus and Cable System

Several years ago, I had a chance to ride a similar bus in San Francisco. What a quiet ride, and super clean. It did require the driver to reset the cantilevers using a the rope/pulley mechanism when one pulled loose. Otherwise, slick and regenerative.

Most older folks will tell stories of riding the "streetcar". Many cities had these but sadly were tossed aside for vehicle lanes. Toronto still has a nice line (I also had the chance to ride one a few years ago)
A classic, restored 1920 Toronto electric streetcar

Light rail has replaced some, but many cities like mine gave up on efficient mass transit decades ago...


sdprius858 08-15-2008 12:08 AM

Wow, Athens, Greece has those tether buses in downtown. Smooth and quiet

jamesqf 08-15-2008 12:42 AM

Lots of European cities use the overhead electric bus systems. Used to ride one occasionally when I lived in Lausanne (near Geneva, Switzerland). The entire Swiss railway system runs the same way, too.

MetroMPG 08-15-2008 08:01 AM

Good reminder, Rick. When I was a kid, Toronto still had its electric trolley buses, but they're gone now. I remember riding on a couple of them, and remember the driver needing to get out and reset the tethers once in a while when they popped off the wires. Ridden on the streetcar lots - used to live very close to the Queen Street line.

MetroMPG 08-15-2008 08:08 AM

Gallery: Transit Toronto - Content: The Toronto Trolley Bus Photo Gallery

Hmmm - wonder if I could get a set of tethers to get the ForkenSwift on the Queen St line... :)

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