Trend Setter

Which famous Wytheville woman jumped on the EV bandwagon 100 years ago?

Trend Setter

Electric vehicles (EVs) are sure to become more prevalent but Prius owners can’t really claim to be ahead of the technological curve. Wytheville native Edith Bolling Wilson might have made a similar claim more than 100 years ago. In 1904, about a decade before she married President Woodrow Wilson (and later became “the shadow president” after he suffered a debilitating stroke), Edith was the first woman in D.C. to own an electric car. At least that’s what she claimed in her 1939 book titled My Memoir. She was married to jeweler Norman Galt at the time—her first husband—and he bought the vehicle for her. But wait: Leslie King, director of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum in Wytheville, which opened two years ago, says that Edith’s older sister Gertrude also owned an electric, and the two apparently had a tiff over which of them acquired the chic battery-powered vehicle first.

In the first years of the 20th century, electric cars were more common than petrol-powered cars. In the photo here, Edith is sitting in what an archivist at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, believes is a snappy electric “runabout” (think horseless carriage with a tiller, top speed of 15 m.p.h.) made by either the Columbia brand of Pope Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, or a Pope spinoff named Columbia and Electric Vehicle Co. The car would have cost between $800 and $1,600 new.

Coming full circle, last year EV technology company Evatran LLC—founded in 2009 and seen as one of the fastest growing manufacturers in Virginia—set up operations in … Wytheville. It is making what the firm says is “the first hands-free plugless charging system” for EVs and hybrids. The idea is for drivers to pull up to recharging stations that automatically, through induction technology, recharge the electric vehicle without the use of cords or plugs. Spotting an opportunity, Evatran is a sponsor of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum.

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