100 Years Later Electriquettes Return To Balboa Park | Historic Electric Carts Now Available For Rent

March 28, 2016

Almost a century before the Prius, before the Smart Car, Electriquettes were all the rave! In 1915, San Diego's Balboa Park was the focus of much of the activity for the Panama-California Exposition and the star of the show that year were the Electriquettes - small wicker carts powered by electric motors - which visitors used to travel around the Prado. Tens of thousands of people from around the world came to the fair from 1915-1916 and rode around Balboa Park in one of Clyde Osborn’s Electriquettes, which have now returned and are available for rent.

Clyde Osborn will never be listed among the titans of the automobile industry. Rather, he is one of the many persistent American optimists who had a dream to build an automobile and then acted upon it. His dream was the Electriquette, a two-passenger, battery-run electric car that was built for the Panama-California Exposition fair. With a body entirely made of wicker, it looked like a lounge chair on wheels. Rides cost a dollar a piece, and the battery ran eight hours before needing a boost.

A San Diego attorney who owned the Fritchie electric car dealership in town, Osborn produced about 200 Electriquettes that did everything that was asked of them. After the fair he abandoned electric car manufacturing and returned to lawyering. The Electriquettes were even featured in a silent film from the Keystone Film Company. They were one of the most popular attractions of the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park but after the event ended they disappeared, and no one knows what happened to them.

When Sandor Shapery, a local entrepeneur, first heard of the Electriquettes, he knew they should be returned to the park. In 2012, he began the project to bring brand new Electriquettes back to San Diego. He asked around but found that nobody knew what had happened to the originals. That's when he brought in David Marshall, who did research at the San Diego History Center. There Marshall found enough historical photos, articles and diagrams of the original carts for replicas to be made with modern equipment. A prototype based on the original design went on display at the San Diego History Center in November of 2012. Permission began being sought to open up rental kiosks in the park starting in 2014 and going beyond the 2015 centennial celebration of the Exposition.

"It’s not often that you see something reappear that vanished 100 years ago," says David Marshall, President of Heritage Architecture. "This is an actual case of history repeating itself. Everyone who sees an Electriquette falls in love with it. It’s not enough to just watch it either - they want to zip around the park in it."

First one prototype was made and then two more, each of these were used in displays and for tests in Balboa Park while Sandor Shapery negotiated the contract with the city. Now 25 carts have been made for the newly formed Electriquette Motor Cart Company. 

 "The response has been amazing," said Kim Keeline, General Manager of Electriquette Motor Cart Company. "People see one of these carts on the Prado and their faces just light up. So many people say they've seen the photos or video on documentaries of Balboa Park but they never expected to see one in real life - or to get the chance to drive one themselves."

The Electriquettes are currently available for rent daily from 10am to 4pm at the introductory cost of $10 for 15 minutes, $15 for 30 minutes, $25 for 1 hour (and $10 for each hour after that). The rental kiosk is located in front of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park at 1875 El Prado.

For more information, visit wickercarts.com.