Early 1900s, U.S. Senate Owned Two Electric Cars That Travelled Underground
Over one hundred years ago, the U.S. government owned electric cars specifically due to zero emissions.
Studebaker was known for making wagons in the mid-1800s, and graduated to automobiles prior to 1900 (1897). We aren’t talking about ICE cars, but instead electric cars. Yes, the company released its first EV prior to a gas model. Seven years later Studebaker began making gas cars, too.
Gas cars obviously had a greater range, but once the electric self-starter came about in 1912, many people preferred the electric car, because it was simple to start. Accounts shared that people thought starting an ICE car could break your arm or wrist. Unfortunately however, the gas cars prevailed and Studebaker stopped making electric cars in 1913. The company went on to make only ICE vehicles until pulling the plug on automaking in 1965.
During the short life of Studebaker electric cars, the U.S. senate acquired two, which members affectionately named Peggy and Tommy. The 72-volt Westinghouse-motored Studebakers were custom built in 1909, and cost the government $2,944, which was twice the cost of a typical Studebaker electric. They were to be used in underground tunnels to get from the Capitol to the Russell Senate Office Building, and to keep the politicians away from the elements. Emission-free travel in these poorly ventilated tunnels was a must.
The Studebakers had two driver’s seats; a forward-facing seat, as well as a rear-facing seat. A single driver would sit in one seat on the initial trip, and switch to the opposite seat on the return. The tunnels were too narrow to turn a vehicle around. The tunnel was only 1/5 of a mile, and the Studebaker could take up to 12 passengers each way, at about 12-15 mph.
After about seven years, Peggy and Tommy were done traveling. In 1916, the U.S. Navy manufactured and installed and electric tram inside the tunnel. It’s still the means of transportation in the tunnel to this day. Both cars were sold over twenty years later, for a mere $35.
Peggy made her way into the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana, and Tommy was shared with the public at the 1939 New York City World’s Fair. In 1950, a collector named William Swigart bought and restored Tommy for display in his own museum; the Swigart Automobile Museum in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Tommy stayed on display for over 60 years.
Recently, the current Swigart museum director and Swigart’s widow called upon the Pennsylvania College of Technology to put new batteries in the car and get it up and running. This month, June 2017, it was driven for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, and went on to win the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Automotive Heritage award, at the Elegance at Hershey.