Fritchle Electric: A Surprising Tale of Denver’s First 100-Mile Electric Car

The Fritchle Electric was a favorite of high society women. It had ample room for the big dresses and large hats worn in the day. One of the only known surviving Fritchle Electric's can be seen at History Colorado Center. (Photo Public Domain)

The electric automobile has gained popularity over the last decade. Advancements in battery technology has made the electric car more practical and reliable. While Colorado isn’t known for automobile manufacturing, it wouldn’t be surprising that an electric car manufacturer would set up shop in Denver.

Oliver Parker Fritchle, a chemist and electrical engineer developed a battery that allowed the electric car to compete with the gas engine. Opening his manufacturing plant on Colfax Avenue, he started producing the Fritchle Electric, selling cars to Denver’s elite. His big competitor was Ford, but not today’s manufacturing giant. Oliver Fritchle competed with the founder of the company, Henry Ford, 115 years ago.

At the turn of the century there were about 1,800 car manufacturers in the country. At that time there was no clear winner between gas and electric cars. Electric cars were already in use in some areas, with up to a third of all cars on the road being electric. Many thought the gas-powered vehicles were noisy, smelled bad, and uncomfortable as the engine often rattled the entire car.

Fritchle believed he could build a better electric car than what was currently being produced and sold his first electric car in 1906. His new battery design was far superior than the competitors and he quickly began manufacturing and selling the “100 Mile Fritchle” to Denver’s social elite. The price tag of the Fritchle was three times the cost of a gas-powered vehicle, so only the wealthy Denverites could afford them. One of Molly Brown’s favorite cars, she was often seen in her Fritchle driving around Denver.

So confident in his batteries, Fritchle claimed the car could go 100 miles on a single overnight charge and challenged other manufacturers to match his distance. With that, he staged a promotional trip, taking a $2,000 base model Fritchle Victoria from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York City. The 1,800 mile trip, over dirt roads, terrible roads, and non-existent roads was completed in 20 days. He never broke down and only had one flat tire.

The car was a success, but the price tag was the downfall. Fritchle sold about 500 cars before shutting down around 1917. Henry Ford’s new Model T, built on an assembly line, had significantly reduced the cost of an automobile, putting the entire electric car industry out of business.

One of the only known Fritchle Electric cars in existence today is on display at the History Colorado Center. Fritchle’s manufacturing facility still stands today at Colfax and Clarkson. Over the years it has been a roller skating rink, warehouse, market, night club and event center. Today it serves as a popular live music venue, the Fillmore Auditorium.

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