A century before Elon Musk’s Tesla, electric cars were popular in many cities

Long before Elon Musk’s Tesla cars, electric automobiles roamed the streets of the nation’s capital. President William Howard Taft’s wife drove an electric car. President Woodrow Wilson rode in an electric, and his wife drove one.

By the turn of the 20th century, horseless carriages had replaced horse-drawn carriages in most major American cities. In 1901, an estimated 38 percent of cars in the United States were electric, 40 percent were powered by steam, and 22 percent ran on gasoline. As a result, streets were cleaner and less stinky in many cities. In New York City alone, horses had deposited about 2.5 million pounds of manure on the streets every day.

By 1915, Washington had 1,325 electric cars, about the same number as Detroit. This ranked behind Chicago with 4,000 electrics and New York with 3,200. In Washington, “the automotive public has had an awakening and has found that the modern electric car truly is an eye opener,” said W.R. Emerson of Emerson & Orma, the local dealership for an Anderson Electric Car Co. model called the Detroit Electric.