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Holtzer Electric
Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co., Brookline, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Chauncey Thomas & Co., George W. McNear

The November 15, 1915 Boston Daily Globe included an article in which Leonard B. Nichols, the president of Chauncey Thomas & Co., claims that in 1892 he turned out "the first ’worth-while’ auto ever built in Boston, an electrically-propelled machine.”

The vehicle that Nichols was referring to was the Holtzer Electric automobile, an early electric vehicle constructed by the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co. of Brookline, Mass., to the order of Fiske Warren, Esq., a wealthy Boston attorney and paper manufacturer who “had the desire to ascertain just what could be done with such vehicles”.

The firm had ties to three local coachbuilders, Boston’s Chauncey Thomas & Co. who supplied the coachwork for a number of its vehicles, Brookline’s Michael Quinlan who built another, and George W. McNear who later occupied its Station Street factory.

Holtzer-Cabot’s founder, Charles William Holtzer, was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1848. Emigrating in 1866, he found employment with E.S. Ritchie & Sons, a manufacturer of nautical accessories located in Brookline. In 1874 he entered into a partnership producing doorbells, alarms, gas igniters and other small electrical appliances with a Mr. Newell, in the style of Holtzer & Newell. Within the year, he bought out his partner, establishing the Holtzer Co. in a small building in Brookline’s Harvard Square.

In 1880 Holtzer relocated to a larger facility on Boylston Street at which time he took on a partner, Seth W. Fuller. In 1885 they purchased a plot opposite the Station Street railway station upon which was built a modern yellow-brick four-story factory.

As the business expanded, they took in a third partner, George W. Cabot, in the style of Fuller, Holtzer & Co. Fuller withdrew from the partnership in 1889, and it was reorganized as the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company. A massive fire destroyed a large portion of the Station St. factory on the night of October 6, 1911. The October 12, 1911 edition of Motor World reporting:

“Fire Damages Holtzer-Cabot Factory.

“Fire of mysterious origin started at midnight, October 6-7, in the factory of the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co., Brookline, Mass., and destroyed the entire main building, causing nearly $250,000 damage. Among other things, the Holtzer-Cabot company makes a dynamo lighting and ignition system for automobiles.”

Temporary quarters were acquired while the firm undertook construction of a new facility at 125 Armory st., Jamaica Plain. The May 1914 issue of The Accessory and Garage Journal reported:


“Ground has been broken for the erection of a new factory of the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company, Brookline, Mass., and Chicago, Ill., on Armory street, Roxbury. Mass. It will be six stories high, with an ell of the same height, and will be of modern construction and equipment throughout. It is expected that it will be ready for occupancy early in 1915.”

Holtzer-Cabot’s Station Street factory was subsequently leased out by George W. McNear, Boston’s best-known builder of classic-era automobile coachwork, who used the facility for most of the next two decades, prior to their removal to 20 Webster Place, Brookline.

The April 1922 issue of the General Electric Review included a historical review of Boston’s first electric-powered vehicles:

“The Electric Vehicle in Boston, by E. S. Mansfield, Superintendent Operating Bureau Accounts Department, Edison Electric Illuminating Co., Boston

“The first electric automobile in Boston was built in the summer of 1888 by Fred M. Kimball of the Fred M. Kimball Co. of Boston. This machine was constructed for P. W. Pratt and was first exhibited in Winthrop Square and later on Columbus Avenue in Boston; also at Central Park, New York City; and on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City.

“It consisted of a tricycle driven by a specially designed bi-polar electric motor of about one-third horse power. Electric power was supplied by a storage battery consisting of six Julien cells, mounted in a wooden crate suspended from the main frame of the vehicle by means of spiral springs, so arranged as to relieve the battery crate from strain or jar. A triple reduction through one set of gears and two chain drives gave the vehicle a speed ranging from 6 to 8 miles per hour on a smooth road. Its total weight without passenger was about 300 lb.

“The next electric vehicle in Boston about which we have any information was a two-passenger electric carriage built for Fiske Warren in 1891 by the Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co. of Boston. This car was equipped with a 5-h.p. series-wound motor especially designed for a speed of 600 r.p.m. and driven by 40 "11-E" chloride accumulator cells coupled to control in four groups of ten cells each to produce speeds of 4, 8, and 16 miles per hour when running over good level roads, and on the middle speed the carriage would run about 40 miles on a single charge of the battery. The weight of the carriage with batteries was nearly 3000 lb., yet it could be operated with great ease and was a very satisfactorily running carriage.

“The drive consisted of rawhide wheels on each end of the armature shaft, bearing on iron flanges bolted to the inside of each rear wheel. Ingenious devices were provided for the electric control, for steering, regulating the speed, and for braking. The speed of this car was about 20 miles per hour and but for its untimely end would doubtless have given good service.

“In 1895 the Holtzer-Cabot Co. produced another electric wagon, modeled after the English "brake," for a wealthy resident of Boston. Its weight was about 5100 lb. and was of solid and durable construction throughout.

“The batteries contained in the body and under the front seat consisted of forty-four 250-ampere-hour chloride accumulator cells with a normal discharge rate of 25 amp. The motor was a special 7 1/2 h.p. 4-pole series wound machine, having a speed at full load of 250 r.p.m. and an efficiency of 89 per cent.

“The car had a speed of from 4 to 15 miles per hour and could take ordinary grades with ease.”

Holtzer-Cabot exhibited an electric carriage at the Eighteenth Triennial Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, held during October and November 1892 at the Huntington ave. and West Newton st. Exhibition Building in Boston, Massachusetts. The event’s catalog included the following entry:

“The Holtzer-Cabot Electric Company manufacture a variety of electrical apparatus, some of which has been on the market for years and have been accepted by the public as a standard where supplies of the highest class are called for.

“The most prominent specialties made by this company belonging more strictly to the general supply class are the H. C. automatic and plain gas lighting fittings, annunciators, burglar alarms, and a complete line of electrical bells, also H. C. watchman's time register for battery or magneto service, the well-known, monarch battery, magneto and extension bells for all classes of telephone and general service, together with a large variety of push buttons, switches and various devices and fittings which make up a complete line of electrical hardware.

“The most prominent and attractive feature of their exhibit was the electric carriage, and the full line of dynamos and motors. This carriage is probably the most powerful and largest of its class that is built, and is a good example of the latest ideas in electric automobile carriages. It is in general similar to the English break type and is driven by a specially devised, slow speed, motor which is connected to the rear wheels by a sprocket chain and differential gearing; by means of an easily operated controller three well defined speeds may be obtained. It is easily guided by one hand, which together which a powerful brake makes it easily controlled.

“This company manufacture motors of 1-8 to 50 H. P., and dynamos for electric light or power purposes of equivalent capacity. They have also recently added a line of dynamos for electroyping etc. Only the best workmanship and stock are used in the construction of their apparatus, and no attempt is made to compete with cheap goods.

“They have recently equipped the New Fire Alarm Headquarters. Boston, with twenty-five special motor generators with which the entire fire alarm service is operated. This installation is the largest of the kind in the country and has been in operation day and night since starting, giving perfect satisfaction and displacing over 401)0 cells of primary battery with all its attendant trouble, uncertainty and expense. It is in such cases as the above where efficiency, good workmanship and quiet running, with the utmost durability, are demanded, and these are found in the Holtzer-Cabot apparatus.

“The carriage shown by them is estimated to run 100 miles without recharging, at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. What another century will show in the line of electric carriages is a most interesting question. That the advancement will be useful and pleasant as well as wonderful is beyond a doubt. Those exhibitors and their compeers and successors will take a prominent part in this great work. The award of the Judges for their present exhibit was a Silver Medal.”

A very detailed description of the Holtzer-Cabot electric was published in the inaugural issue of The Horseless Age (November, 1895):

“The Holtzer Electric Wagon

“In the spring of 1895 The Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co. of Boston, completed for a wealthy resident of that city an electric wagon modeled after the English brake and capable of seating six or seven persons. Its weight is 5,100 pounds, and it is of the most durable and solid construction throughout.

“The batteries are contained in the body and under the front seat, and the top or cover of the body which supports the two rear seats is hinged, so that it can be raised and thrown over against the front street, leaving the cells and all connections accessible for examination or repairs.

“The batteries comprise 44, 250 ampere hour Chloride cells, with a nominal discharge rated of 25 amperes. The cells are arranged in four groups of eleven each, and are connected to the motor through a series parallel controller, which puts the groups in multiple series, and multiple series respectively, giving three speeds; 5, 8 and 15 miles an hour. These are operated by the lever shown alongside the steering shaft, and locked in the various positions by engaging with a notched arc and spring latch. This arrangement gives three well defined speeds, and no rheostat is needed. Though put to severe test in hill climbing and over heavy roads the batteries are said to have been equal to every emergency.

“The running gear is very substantially built to stand the strain of heavy loads and rough roads without danger of breaking springs or wheels. To reduce friction the wheels are provided with ball bearings. The body of the wagons is watertight and acid proof paint has been liberally used over it, so that under no circumstances can the breaking or spilling of a cell damage the motor or its connections underneath.

“The steering is arranged at the hubs of the front axle, heavy crank levers being geared to the steering shaft, which is provided with a bicycle handle. A toothed segment with a spring latch is also arranged so that by a slight pressure of the foot the operator may lock the front wheels at any angle. Notwithstanding the immense weight the wagon can be guided by one hand at any speed.

“The motor is a 4 pole series wound, of 7 ˝ H.P. capacity, and weighs 450 pounds. Its speed at full load is 250 revolutions and its efficiency 89 per cent. A phosphor bronze armature pinion engages with a carefully cut intermediate gear, the shaft of which is divided and connected through a differential gearing, allowing the wheels to run at different speeds when rounding corners. The intermediate shaft drives the hind wheels directly by chains, one on each side. The motor and gearing are protected by a light leather casing.

“For convenience in backing a reversing switch is mounted on the controller arc and interlocks with it so that the motor cannot be reversed until the controller level is placed at ‘off’.

“The speed may be varied from 4 to 15 miles an hour, and all ordinary grades are accomplished with ease. The brake is of the usual coach pattern, and has been found sufficient for all purposes.

“Two 10 candle power lamps furnish light by night.

“The wagon work was done by Chauncey Thomas & Co., carriage builders of Boston.”

The June 28, 1893 issue of Electricity contained the following news item relating to the car:

“The selectmen of Brookline, Mass. are considering whether they ought to prohibit the use of an electric carriage in the streets, complaint having been made that it frightened a horse. Mr. Fiske Warren, the owner of the vehicle, cites in defense of such use of it the case of the bicycle against which similar objections were raised when it first appeared but are heard no more.”

© 2012 Mark Theobald -






Fifty Years: 1875-1925 - Holtzer-Cabot Electric Co., pub. 1925

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