After their public unveiling at the National Automobile Show of 1900 in Madison Square Garden, Baker Electrics quickly became the nation's most popular battery-powered vehicles. Notable purchasers included Thomas Edison, who chose a Baker as his first automobile.
Baker Stanhopes were marketed as quiet, genteel and especially well-suited for ladies or professional men such as doctors. Advertisements emphasized the Stanhope's 'complete embodiment of refinement' as well as its simplicity of operation, which offered women freedom from 'liveried attendance.' Ladies also appreciated the clean operation of electric automobiles because it eliminated the necessity of wearing 'course, unbecoming automobile suites' to protect their fine clothing from dirt and gasoline fumes.
In spite of the car's promotion as safe and quiet vehicle the Baker's popularity was due in part to the racing exploits of its manufacturer, Walter C. Baker. With a top speed of only 12 mph the first battery-powered cars were quite slow, but Baker was determined to prove that his electrics could match the speed of gasoline and steam cars. He designed an electric racer that was far more powerful than a standard Baker and tested it on a Staten Island Speedway in June of 1902. During his test run Baker did achieve the extraordinary speed of 76 mph - but he crashed into the watching crowd, killing two spectators. The following year Baker confined himself to racing electric cars equipped with the same 3/4 horsepower motor as production Bakers and still managed to set speed records for two and ten mile distances, thus ensuring the continued popularity of Baker Electric Automobiles.
Until 1900 there was no discernable difference in appearance among gasoline, steam, and electric cars; all were built in the standard 'runabout' style. The public, however, began to favor front-engine touring cars, and makers of gasoline and steam cars remodeled old designs or introduced new models to conform to the trend. With few exceptions, makers of electric cars did not change their designs, in part because electrics would not have functionally benefited from the changes. The main reason electrics maintained their original designs was aesthetic; the masculine, aggressive appearance of front-engine touring cars did not suit electrics, which projected a more elegant and refined image.
Powered by batteries and an electric motor, electrics produced no waste products, were uncomplicated to operate, and offered a smooth, quiet ride. They were generally safe and reliable - there were no dangerous boilers or flames, and while some makers produced successful electric racers, electrics usually had lower top speeds. These qualities of comfort, safety, and simplicity made electrics popular with fashionable women and urban professionals, who used the cars to visit acquaintances, go shopping or to work, and other short trips. In some cities, charging stations were installed in business districts, allowing drivers to 'refuel' while they completed errands. Further catering to the well-heeled clientele, many electrics were designed as 'mobile parlors,' with window curtains, seats upholstered in elegant materials, and other luxurious interior decorations.
Companies like Baker Motor Vehicle of Cleveland marketed directly to those 'city drivers.' Baker presented its Electric Stanhope as 'dainty, immaculately clean, full of good service, durable, simple to operate, and always ready to go...ideal for city use.' The Electric Stanhope quickly became the nation's most popular battery-powered vehicle after its introduction in 1900. This 1903 model originally retailed for $1,600 and is a typical example of the electric car at the height of its popularity.
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