1903 Columbia Mark LX Electric Runabout

Intriguing Gem

Brooks Brierley

Electric-powered automobiles were once a big deal. As the 20th century began, a Hartford, Connecticut, combine, Pope Manufacturing and the Electric Vehicle Co. (with the help of Studebaker), was building hundreds of electric cars annually using the Columbia brand name. In contrast, most American gasoline-engine pioneers were making their first 25 or 50 cars then.

The Columbia runabout was basic transportation, resembling a horse-drawn vehicle, with a single bench seat. It has a 64-inch wheelbase and 30-inch wood-spoke wheels (covered by leather fenders), and weighs 1200 pounds. The car listed for $850 (without a top), while a Curved Dash Oldsmobile was $650.

When this runabout was new, Columbia was the leading maker of electric cars—with 20 different models, from runabouts to private buses, plus commercial versions such as police cars and taxis. Demand was strongest in large cities where road conditions were best. There, the electric vehicle’s quiet operation was appreciated, and battery recharging facilities were readily available. Columbia sought an upscale image for its cars and the perfect upscale venue for its main New York showroom opposite the Metropolitan Opera House. But the resale market for the vehicles in the city was not so proper: “Automobiles Slaughtered,” exclaimed one seller’s ad in bold letters, describing a 75 percent markdown from original list price.

Clare Stannard, president of the Denver Gas & Electric Co., originally purchased this runabout. His firm was at the forefront of promoting electric cars—Denver was said to have the highest per capita use of them in the country. [See the 1912 ad from a Denver newspaper at the bottom of this webpage.] In 1966, Donald Gilmore purchased this runabout for his Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, where it remains today, looking brand-new and ready to go.

The runabout is great fun to drive. The tiller implies a challenge to anyone who has not used one, but it is quickly mastered. The car’s lightness makes steering comfortable and very responsive. It runs almost silently, the loudest sound coming from the chain drive. The car seems perfect for short distances; yet incredibly, it was capable of longer runs, like the Columbia that drove 250 miles between Boston and New York in 23 hours in 1903.

Starting the Columbia is simple. Instead of a key or starter button, there is a drawer-pull-shaped device, with a copper and brass end. It is inserted into a socket underneath the seat to complete the connection between the batteries and the series-wound motor. The knob sticks out from under the seat to remind the driver the power is on (the museum keeps a number of spare connector knobs on hand, just in case).

This Columbia was originally equipped with a set of 20 Exide batteries (Exide was related to the Electric Vehicle Co.) placed above the front and rear axles to distribute weight. They required recharging every 40 miles. Today, the Columbia runs on six modern six-volt automobile batteries—three under the front hood, three behind the seat. An enormous and artistically shaped metal gauge sits on the floor, taking up the better part of the passenger’s foot space, to monitor the batteries’ operation.

A flat metal bar to the left of the driver is both gearshift and accelerator. Pushing forward engages three speeds, pulling back activates two in reverse. The top speed was—and still is—about 15 mph. The brake pedal takes some effort and time to work the two-wheel brakes. A bell sounds when the stop is complete.

The Electric Vehicle Co. diversified by purchasing the Selden gasoline-engine patent, which generated royalties from anyone building internal combustion engines and set up a contentious relationship (including lawsuits) with the other automobile manufacturers. It soon undermined Electric Vehicle’s finances. In 1911, legal challenges to the Selden patent finally succeeded, rendering it meaningless. Production of both Columbia electric and gasoline cars ended soon after.





model LX


Electric Runabout


1 9 0 3


/ $850 + la capote


ouverte à 2 places


moteur électrique de 30 ampères


  • 1896 : le colonel Pope est le plus grand fabricant de bicyclettes des Etats Unis ce qui ne l'a pas empêché de tester l'année dernière une voiture à essence et cette année une voiture électrique
  • 1897 : Hiran Percy Maxim produit quelques chariots électriques en une dizaine de versions au catalogue
  • 1898 : association de ces deux entités et création de la "Hartford Manufacturing Company" à Hartford (Connecticut). Production de 73 véhicules essentiellement électriques et appelés Pope ou Columbia
  • 1899 : changement de dénomination pour "Columbia Automobile Company" toujours à Hartford. Le finacier William Collins Whitney achète la "Electric Vehicle Company" à Isaac Rice avec pour objectif de fabriquer 2000 taxix pour les grandes villes américaines. Il contacte le colonel Pope pouir associer leurs entreprises
  • 1900 : naissance de la "Columbia & Electric Vehicle Company" toujours à Hartford. Ils acquièrent les droits de Selden pour une voiture à essence en complément des modèles électriques
  • 1901 : changement de dénomination pour "Columbia Vehicle Company" . La production frôle les 1500 unités essentiellement électriques, l'essence étant représentée par la <<Columbia Mark VIII Runabout>>avec un monocylindre de 4,5cv
  • 1903 : la gamme est impressionnante en électrique avec 20 choix allant de *900 pour le runabout à $3500 pour le Brougham en passant par des versions police, ambulance, taxi et autres utilitaires. La Mark XLI à essence est fabriquée en torpédo seulement
  • 1904 : les écarts de prix sont encore plus importants allant du runabout à $850 au torpédo 4 cylindres de 36cv à $5000, 37 modèles en tout!
  • 1906 : naissance de la Mark LXVI a essence et l'offre electrique/essence s'équilibre à 8 contre 7
  • 1909 : changement de dénomination pour "Columbia Motor Car Company" toujours à Hartford. La production devient essentiellement essence 4 cylindres mais les électriques subsistent. Les chiffres romains pour nommer les modèles sont abandonnés au profit des chiffres arabes
  • 1910 : l'entreprise est rachetée par US Motor et la production se limite désormais à l'essence 4cyl
  • 1912 : les chiffres rommains sont abandonnés au profit de noms; la gamme se compose de <<Columbia Cavalier>> et <<Columbia Knight>>
  • 1913 : poursuite de la gamme mais US Motor décide la fermeture de la firme

1898 = 73
1899 = 387
1900 = 1393
1901 = 1427
1902 = 1583
1903 = 1727
1904 = 1937
1905 = 1213
1906 = 1816
1907 = 2210
1908 = 2715
1909 = 2817
1910 = 2923
1911 = 2236
1912 = 1817
1913 = 937

  • model LX électrique - moteur 6 pôles de 30 ampères et 40 volts - batteries de 120Ah en 20 cellules - vitesse maximum de 22km/h et autonomie maximum de 65km
  • le premier acheteur était le PdG de la Denver Gas et Electric Company, Mr Stannard. Une copie conforme de ce véhicule se trouve au Smithsonian National Museum de Washington DC





==  ==  ==  ==  ==  ==  ==  ==

The photos below were taken at
the 2008 Chicago Auto Show



--  Not *exactly* accurate in every detail, but generally informative  --





columbia     columbia

{Photos by Sebastian Blanco, posted on autobloggreen February 7, 2008}

That car would have been originally featured
at the Chicago Auto Show of 1903.
Here are some items from that show, and from a
couple of other early Windy City Expositions.






Next is an article about the 1902 show, followed by one
from 1905.  The 1904 show was displayed earlier, on the
page about the original Chicago to New York record.




Next, as mentioned at the top of this page, is the ad
from a Denver newspaper in March, 1912



To return to the previous Columbia page, click HERE.
From there, you can visit other pages with material
right through to the end of production in 1913.