Arts and Culture

Fritchle Electric Car Finally Parks at History Colorado

When History Colorado planned its Denver A to Z exhibit, which features everything from the Barrel Man to zombies (don't ask), it had a true historic artifact for the letter E: an electric car, the Fritchle, which was manufactured in Denver in the early 1900s and featured in the old museum's exhibit celebrating Denver's 150th birthday. But then disaster struck: In October 2012, the roof of one of the warehouses where History Colorado was storing artifacts and documents while it moved into its new building collapsed under the weight of an early snowstorm, and the Fritchle was damaged. Suddenly, E equalled Emergency!

See also: An alternative Denver A to Z exhibit to replace History Colorado's snoozer

When the A to Z exhibit opened in early 2013, a cardboard cutout of the electric car played stand-in. And today, after many months of repair work and restoration, the original Fritchle electric car was delivered to History Colorado, where it took its rightful place by the Barrel Man.

Oliver Parker Fritchle had moved to Denver in 1899 to become chief chemist for the Henry E. Wood Company. In 1903, though, he was granted his first battery patent, and he established the O. P. Fritchle Garage Company, which later morphed into the Fritchle Automobile & Battery Company. By 1905, he'd produced his first Fritchle electric car, and within two years, there were a couple dozen of the automobiles on the streets of Denver.

In 1908, on the twentieth anniversary of the electric car, Fritchle entered a new model, the Victoria Phaeton, in a cross-country automotive endurance run, the AAA National Reliability Tour. He drove the 1,800 miles in 29 days.

Other fun facts about the Fritchle:

-- The Fritchel battery system permitted a driving range of 100 miles or more between overnight charges. Batteries generally lasted more than 10,000 miles and could be replaced for $208.

-- In 1909, a Victoria Phaeton sold for $2,000.

-- The Fritchle factory was located in what today is the Fillmore Auditorium.

-- Margaret Brown (later known as the Unsinkable Molly) had a Fritchle. And in one of A to Z's Disneyesque takes on history, the "K is for Knock-Out" display has a cartoon Molly Brown racing Mary Elitch, who's riding an ostrich. The ostrich, which could go 60 mph, wins; the Fritchle could only go 25 mpg.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun