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99 Years Later, Electric Car 'Sociability Run' Honored In DC

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Electric Vehicle Association ad, 1912

Electric Vehicle Association ad, 1912

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This is a momentous year for electric car fans: the 99th anniversary of Washington, D.C.'s historic Electric Sociability Run of 1914. To commemorate that event, enthusiasts are planning a similar rally this Memorial Day weekend.

Many, if not most folks in America are familiar with today's electric cars -- full EVs like the Nissan Leaf and extended-range cars like the Chevrolet Volt. They might even have seen the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car (or its sequel) and heard rumblings about a new automaker, Detroit Electric.

But fewer understand that in fact, electric cars have a long history in the U.S., and that Detroit Electric isn't so much a new company as the relaunching of a long-forgotten EV brand. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, electric cars were making headway with America's increasingly mobile-minded middle class. And in 1914, a group of enterprising auto dealers tried to galvanize fans and spark interest among consumers.

The group was known as the Electric Vehicle Association of America, and on May 27, 1914 ,it encouraged 54 electric car-owners to rally in Washington, D.C. for a 14-mile drive, which ended at Joaquin Miller Cabin in Rock Creek Park. The trip took just over one hour and 15 minutes. According to news accounts of the period, this wasn't the first such Electric Sociability Run, but it was among the most high-profile. 

One of the best-known electric-car manufacturers at the time was Detroit Electric. (In fact, there's a large ad for the company just below this announcement of the 1914 Sociability Run in the Washington Times.) Detroit Electric and other EV automakers were making inroads in America's early motoring days, and at the time of the rally, electric cars outnumbered gas vehicles in many U.S. markets. According to some accounts, they were especially popular with women because they didn't require cranking, as gas-powered vehicles did.

Of course, all that soon changed as combustion engines became more powerful and less expensive. But the electric car's early days haven't been forgotten, and later this month, EV fans will pay homage to the Electric Sociability Run of 1914.

If you and your electric vehicle are planning to be in Washington, D.C. on Monday, May 27, you can register for the event at PlugInRally.org. Hurry, though -- of the 75 spots available, it looks as if only about 25 are left.

[h/t Brian Henderson

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