Academic Affairs

Steinmetz Electric Car

Steinmetz electric car

History on wheels

A 1914 "Duplex Drive Brougham" Detroit Electric Automobile once owned by Charles Proteus Steinmetz will be used at Union's Commencement ceremonies.

The vintage car, weather permitting, will lead the College's Commencement processional carrying the College president and commencement honorands.

Steinmetz, an engineer and inventor, was chair of the Union College Electrical Engineering Department from 1902 to 1913, and a member of the Union faculty until his death in 1923. He became so enamored with electric vehicles that he founded the Steinmetz Electric Car Co. in 1917.

Found in a Glenville field 40 years after Steinmetz' death, the car was purchased by the College in 1971 and restored for use in campus ceremonies. It has previously been on display at the Saratoga Auto Museum and is currently on loan to the Edison Exploratorium in downtown Schenectady.

The all-aluminum vehicle has a top speed of about 25 mph, is driven with a tiller rather than a steering wheel and can drive approximately 50 miles on one battery charge. "In its day, electric cars were more popular than gasoline-driven cars," said John Spinelli, associate professor and chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "This car runs on 14, six-volt batteries which aren't standard and cost about $2,500 to replace."

John Harnden '50, a General Electric engineer and founder of the Edison Exploritorium, funded new, high-capacity batteries for the car. Gene E. Davison, lab manager in Electrical and Computer Engineering, maintains the car.