Oliver P. Fritchle Company: The undisputed EV leader of the past

Oliver P. Fritchle Company: The undisputed EV leader of the past

In 1908, when Oliver Fritchle boasted that his unique battery driven car could travel one hundred miles on a single charge, skeptics challenged the claim as a mere publicity stunt. To prove his point, Fritchle set off on a cross-country road trip, stopping only when necessary. As he claimed, an overnight charge would last the car one hundred miles - an unheard of feat for that time. Orders for the “One Hundred Mile Fritchle” came thick and fast. In 1912, Fritchle's highly anticipated electric vehicles had a long waiting list before the plant put a single auto into production. 

When on the road, the powerful Fritchle's battery propelled cars was quick up steep mountainsides of the Rocky mountains and made them ideal for those who wished to go joyriding in their leisure time, especially the rich ladies of that time, who also liked the cleanliness and silence of electric vehicles, which they found more refined than the loud and often filthy emissions of gasoline cars. 

Electric cars were considerably more expensive than gasoline powered automobiles. Ford’s vehicles sold for around $500. By contrast, Fritchle's cars were priced at $3500, making them the ultimate status symbol and a luxury of the time.

Unfortunately, after nearly a decade as the gold standard of luxury automobiles, the Oliver P. Fritchle Company shut its doors in 1917. Electric cars, with their reputation for being expensive, fell out of favor as the United States entered the First World War. More economical gasoline cars soon overtook the electric automobile in even the elite markets. Improvements to the internal combustion engines of gasoline cars surpassed advancements in the engines of electric cars, where no electrical equivalent to internal combustion had been developed.

In Denver, electric vehicle charging stations largely built and maintained by Fritchle himself were ubiquitous. But outside of Denver, the relative scarcity of electric cars meant charging stations were few and far between. For those who wanted to venture beyond the Fritchle’s one hundred mile range, this could mean needing to leave the expensive car at an electrical plant overnight to charge. By contrast, gas stations could be found across the country, meaning that even though the range of gas powered automobiles was smaller, they were easier to refuel.

The fall of Fritchle was the death knell in the already struggling electric car industry. Even with the advent of postwar prosperity in the 1920s, electric cars did not re-emerge. Inventors like Fritchle had moved on to other projects, and did not see the point in reviving what they considered a dead product. It would be another one hundred years before electric cars once again made their way into the mainstream.

Today, one of the only known surviving Fritchles can be seen on display at the History Colorado Center.