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MetroMPG 08-14-2008 11:58 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 05:59 PM

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

MetroMPG 08-14-2008 11:33 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 11:34 PM

greenitup: bet you're right!

bennelson 08-15-2008 12:32 AM

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 01:01 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 01:08 AM

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

jamesqf 08-15-2008 01:42 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 09:01 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 09:08 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... :)

RH77 08-15-2008 12:34 PM


Originally Posted by MetroMPG (Post 53545)
Ridden on the streetcar lots - used to live very close to the Queen Street line.

Great pics...

I took the streetcar in 2002 when I visited Toronto regularly for work (didn't rent a car -- transit is too good, the Rapid is pretty quick). I recall getting on the wrong one and got a bit lost :o I once gave Via Rail a try, over to Ottawa and walked. Ah, the good old days. Can't walk or take transit easily in the Midwest :(

I wonder if it's still possible to convert back to electric buses with the trolley lines. Too bad they discontinued them -- makes too much sense these days. As a kid in the Akron area, I used to use the bus all the time to get around. At the time, they had the largest route system for a city its size.


Hmmm - wonder if I could get a set of tethers to get the ForkenSwift on the Queen St line...
Not sure of the voltage, but you could probably outrun anyone that has a problem with it :p


MetroMPG 08-15-2008 03:51 PM

FYI, a New York Times blog has picked up this thread.

Word travels faster in the internet age than electric buses used to.

Yaristock 08-16-2008 09:57 PM

To bad they misspelled ecomodder :p

MetroMPG 08-16-2008 11:36 PM

Ben sent the writer a message on Friday partly to ask about correcting that. We'll see...

basjoos 08-17-2008 05:20 PM

I recall reading where some electric car drivers back in 1900 used to recharge their cars from the overhead trolley lines that were common back then when they were out on extended drives. Some electric car manufacturers included instructions and equipment for recharging their cars from a trolley line (a long bamboo pole, wire and hook for the overhead wire, another wire and contact to connect to a rail, recharge selector on the car set for trolley voltage, if a streetcar comes along, disconnect until after it passes).

bennelson 08-17-2008 11:56 PM

Recharging an electric car from a trolley line is a great idea. I had never heard of it before, but it makes sense.

Just imagine - way back when, there was INFRASTRUCTURE for remote charging!

Of course nowadays, there are electric outlets everywhere, but we still aren't designing right for electrics.

bbjsw10 08-18-2008 12:09 AM

That is a great find, I saved a copy of the pic. Green Car, that is great to see from way back when.

Tethers for the forkenswift, LOL. How about a big electo-magnet then you could do highways speeds just sneek up and attach it. You could just explain to the cops you were reducing their drag by using your car as a boat-tail.

bennelson 12-31-2008 10:00 AM

Similar vehicle on Auto Blog Green
I just saw this same thing on AutoBlog Green. This one was in Toronto. I had to compare the two photos to make sure they weren't the same model.

Very similar vehicles from the same time period. This one was also used to ferry tourists about.

jjackstone 01-01-2009 12:53 AM

The following link(if it works) has info about the Green Car Sightseeing Co. in 1918. Apparently there was some accounting problems in the newly publicly traded company.


trikkonceptz 01-02-2009 04:21 PM

Not to rain on the parade here, I know electric is cleaner and better for the enviroment, but at what point do we consider visual polution. That shot of the bus tethered to the grid makes that neighborhood look like a dump IMO.

It would be something to consider in the future now that someone has developed or rumored to have developed bluetooth charging for small devices like cell phones. Otherwise, I would not be happy with bringing back the ways of old.

roverdriver 12-05-2009 10:59 PM

As others have pointed out, there is nothing new about battery electric vehicles, nor is the 'hybrid' petrol-electric vehicle a new idea. I can provide some information and a couple of photos if anyone is interested.

I came to this site because of the photo at the beginning of this thread. I have a photograph, 27 inches by 16 of a similar vehicle. It is a Lansden, of probably circa 1905.

The reference by jjackstone is interesting in that it mentions that the Green Car Company was incorporated in 1917. It must have been a re-incorporation as the photographs of the electric sight-seeing vehicles that I have seen all pre-date 1917.

Roverdriver in Australia

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