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Waverley Electric

A very early and well-known automobile, the Waverley Electric was produced from 1896 to 1914 and was called "by far the best Electric on the market". Owned by such celebrities as Diamond Jim Brady, Willa Cather, Madam C.J. Walker (African-American hair care entrepreneur), General Lew Wallace, Thomas Edison, and William Horlick (creator of malted milk), the Waverley traces its name to the earlier Waverley bicycle produced by the Indiana Bicycle Company from 1893-1899.

The first Waverley Electric built in 1898 was a two-person Stanhope based on C.E. Woods' American Electric and utilizing Elmer Sperry's patented battery that kept its charge much longer than other batteries. The Stanhope, priced at about $1500, was a buggy with high seat and closed back, especially favored by physicians. The Waverley Stanhope had tiller steering, an upholstered leather seat, 36-inch, ball bearing wooden wheels with pneumatic tires, and a headlight centered on the buckboard frame. Its radius was 40 miles and its top speed 14 mph. Said to be the first woman driver in the U.S., Genevra Delphine Mudge drove a Waverley Electric on New York City streets in 1898. In 1900, the Indianapolis company joined the American Bicycle Co. trust headed by Albert Augustus Pope, father of the American bicycle and manufacturer of the Columbia electric car—and Pope became involved with Waverley manufacturing. An interesting characteristic of one 1900 Waverley was a front seat that faced the rear. The driver sat in the back seat operating the center steering lever—in position to converse with his passengers. The physician's model offered side curtains and a storm apron to keep the vehicle as dry and comfortable as a closed carriage. Its battery was guaranteed for two years and it was said to be "safe, speedy, noiseless, odorless, and economical". The dos-a-dos had two seats back-to-back so front-seat passengers sat with their backs to rearward-facing back-seat passengers—and Waverley, removing any doubt as to battery efficiency, threw in a contract for battery maintenance for five years.

1901 Waverley Electric first run in 80 years.

Three different-sized motors powered the 1901 Waverley electric. The runabout (a 2-passenger model with an emergency seat for another two) had a 1.5 HP engine, the Phaeton and Stanhope were powered by a 2.5 HP motor, and the Brougham (equipped with an electric heater) and heavier delivery wagon ran on a 3.5 HP motor. The heavier motor was powered by 44 battery cells, each cell weighing 9 pounds or more. It was also in 1901 that Edison tried out his new storage battery using cadmium and copper instead of the more-standard lead. In a Waverley electric that weighed 1800 pounds, his batteries weighed 653 pounds, bringing battery weight down to 33% of total weight when other battery weights were closer to 45%—and the batteries powered the vehicle over 94 miles. While this battery and the battery Edison developed by 1903 utilizing potassium hydroxide with iron and nickel electrodes did have some advantages, they also cost a good bit more than standard batteries.

1903 Waverley Electric Ad A 1902 ad for Waverley vehicles now manufactured by the International Motor Car Co. featured a young man clad in double breasted coat and cap—looking a lot like the Whitman candy delivery boy—steering the vehicle through a stone gate opening. The claim was that you could drive 40 miles on a single charge in a car that was "stronger, better & more substantial in every part than any other electric automobile on the market." That year's Model 21, so the claim went, had a 60 mile radius and was priced at $850. The following year International showed the car at the New York Automobile Show as the most up-to-date and practical electric vehicle made. 1903 was also the year in which Pope bought International, lending his name to the Pope-Waverley. Advertisements in that year touted electric vehicles with appeal to anyone with an interest in an "absolutely noiseless, odorless, clean and stylish rig that is always ready and that, mile for mile, can be operated at less cost than any other type of motor car." Both the driver and the passenger were smiling women. Even though women represented a very small proportion of car drivers, the electric was easy for them to start, easy to drive, usually came with an enclosed coach body, and could be maintained by professionals rather than a driver and his ever-present toolkit. As another '03 ad had it, "No complications. Turn on power and steer."

In 1904 Pope sent Herbert H. Rice, his employee since 1892, to manage Pope-Waverley in Indianapolis. Expectations were that he would need 800 workers to produce the cars in numbers that would keep up with customer demand. The 1904 line-up came with shiny brass trimmings and included the 2-person, 3-hp Chelsea for $1,100, the 3-hp Road Wagon with a rear, open cargo box for $850, the Edison Battery Wagon equipped with 48-cell Edison batteries at the rear of the car for $2,250, and the Tonneau that seated five, had twin rear motors, and an armored wood frame for $1800. The Model 69 Runabout with top which sold for $1,325 featured a noiseless herring-bone gear as one feature that "made it the most popular carriage in the electric field, and the envy of manufacturers of all other electric cars." A Model 30 Station Wagon, also available at $2,000, was advertised as a "stylish, superbly finished and appointed carriage". The ad also showed a gentleman in top hat helping a stylishly cloaked lady, her way lit by a side carriage lamp, to step down from her enclosed carriage while her chauffeur sat at the ready ahead of the enclosure.

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