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AUTO-BIOGRAPHY

Rauch and Lang Electrics: Cars of Social Prestige

By Llewellyn Hedgbeth

You know the old saying, "Everything old is new again." The kinds of purchasers interested in electric cars these days — the Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, and others — echo the sentiments of earlier electric car owners who liked the diminished reliance on gasoline, low cost to operate and maintain, quiet ride, even the "Wow!" factor of being the first in your neighborhood to have one. Near the turn of the twentieth century as motorized vehicles began to replace horse-drawn carriages, lots of start-up auto makers began testing both gasoline-powered and electric engines. In fact, the early electrics (sometimes called "juicers") they tested made numbers of car makers and owners quite happy. The Rauch and Lang Electric was one of the finest, most expensive, and longest lasting of such brands, a car that oozed luxury and was de rigueur for the social set.

1919 Rauch and Lang Electric
1919 Rauch and Lang Electric

The Early Years

Charles Rauch, son of German-born blacksmith and wheelwright Jacob Rauch, followed in his father's footsteps and opened his own shop in Cleveland, Ohio in 1860. Both father and son had shops in Cleveland along the route of the daily Cincinnati to Cleveland stage coach. When Jacob died in the fighting at Gettysburg, Charles was left to make a go of things on his own. He closed his father's shop, kept his own, and did very well indeed, becoming the largest carriage making concern in northern Ohio by the 1870s. He turned out sleighs, drays, trucks, wagons, and carriages. In 1878, he hired Charles E. J. Lang, a Cleveland bookkeeper, to help him with the financial side of the business. Rauch found Lang's efforts invaluable, and in 1884, partnered with him, incorporating as the Rauch and Lang Carriage Co. An added advantage to the partnership came in capitalization from Lang's wealthy family which was heavily invested in real estate. The plan was to expand distribution and sales nationwide with Rauch serving as president, and Lang as secretary-treasurer, each receiving an annual salary of $1800. By 1890, Lang had moved up to vice president and they had leased a four-story factory for $1650 a year.

The carriage establishment prospered as it produced a variety of types of conveyances — opera busses, doctor's wagons, Victorias, Stanhopes, Broughams, etc., each selling from $500 to $2000. In 1903, Rauch & Lang became dealers for the new Buffalo Electric automobile and were taken with its possibilities. Just two years later they were producing their own electric cars, in 1905 rolling out fifty Stanhopes, coupes and depot wagons. And Rauch and Lang were the first — or among the first — to come out with the option of a closed body.

In these early days, they outsourced their engines to the Hertner Electric Co., a company they bought out in 1907, learning as many early manufacturers did that there were real advantages in keeping the work in-house. The R. & L. Electrics were the feature of the Chicago and Cleveland Show in Electric Vehicles that year and an ad of the day featured a gentleman's manicured hands holding an oval frame picturing a Rauch & Lang Electric. Its caption read: "For Her: You want the best, and as a Christmas gift a Rauch and Lang Electric should meet with the approval of HER, whatever wife, sister, or sweetheart. Every feature is superior to any other electric vehicle on the market." Ladies were especially appreciative that they didn't have to wrestle with the gasoline engine's noxious fumes or notoriously difficult starter crank.

1919 Rauch and Lang Electric
1919 Rauch and Lang Electric

For more photos of the 1919 Rauch & Lang, see Photogallery: 1919 Rauch and Lang.

1907 buyers had a number of styles to interest them. The Stanhope, powered by a 40-cell P.V. Exide battery, was priced at $2250, or, with a folding seat, $50 more. A surrey, with a pressed steel body but without a top, ran $2500 and featured a 2.5 hp Hertner motor. It could achieve a speed of 20 mph and could traverse a distance of fifty miles on a single charge. The Victoria with front seat was priced a little lower, at $2200, and came in blue, green or maroon, with broadcloth upholstery. It also came with side lamps, a tail lamp, storm apron (heavy blanket), odometer, and set of tools. More importantly, that model featured a top made of hand buffed enameled leather. It was powered by a 24-cell battery and could achieve speeds up to 16 mph. A four-passenger coupe sold for $2700 inclusive of extras like a dome light and toilet case. The largest of the models was a six-passenger Depot Wagon weighing 3500 pounds and featuring a double chain drive; cost: $3500.

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