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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Seeing New York: 1904

Seeing New York: 1904

Circa 1904. "Seeing New York." Electric omnibuses at the Flatiron Building. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

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From the Daily News Tribune of June 26, 1904. This ad occurs only in June and July issues. Most likely, they did't work so long.

Vehicle Equipment Company

These “Automobile buses” were made by the Vehicle Equipment Company of Long Island City, New York. Their literature called them “A combination of the commercial and pleasure types.”

The Vehicle Equipment Company was started in Brooklyn in 1901 by Robert Lloyd and Lucius T. Gibbs. By 1903 they had relocated to Long Island City. Up until mid-1906 they built a large number of commercial electric vehicles. From 1903 to 1905 they also built a 3-seat electric car called the VE Electric. Almost all of their vehicles were single motor shaft-drive. The company went into receivership in 1906, and the General Vehicle Company (owned by the General Electric Company) purchased the factory and reorganized to build both gasoline and electric vehicles, as well as replacement parts. Vehicles built from mid-1906 on were known as GV Electrics.

By 1915 there were some 2,000 GV Electrics in New York City alone, representing more than 25% of all trucks of all types working daily in the city. The style of “Automobile bus” seen above was also very popular in Washington D.C. and other cities as well.

General Vehicle Company ceased production around 1917.

I believe it's called a charabanc

There's a picture of another electric charabanc at . The name is a good description: charabanc = char-à-banc = bench carriage. According to Wikipedia, mostly used for sightseeing and daytrips, safety record not great.

In living color

Colorized version of a very overloaded one used by the Fifth Avenue Coach Company:


This is one of my favorite Shorpy pics ever. The expressions on all the faces speak volumes. Great.

Duck Tours

These remind me of the Duck Tour vehicles in Boston and other cities. Refurbished WWII amphibious vehicles. It's also neat to see the guy in the last row with his hat clip attached so he won't lose it in the wind.

Timely questions

I surmise that the doors on the sides of the cars open up to allow for artfully placed hidden steps for boarding? How else would a lady's delicate and well turned heel ascend and descend the bus?

How far could an electric omnibus go before needing a recharge?

Tourist Destination

At what point did NYC become a tourist destination, where people come just to see the city itself, as these people are doing?

I guess that sort of thing doesn't just happen at a "point in time," but gradually.

OK, so I want to know:

Who killed the electric omnibus?

Fred MacMurray

You can't hide behind that mustache. Smart to have your hat attached by that wind trolley too.

People were just so civilized back then. Being clean and proper was the order of the day. Lady in Row 5 seems to be making sure her companion is up to snuff.


These sightseeing contraptions are as ugly and ungainly as the "duck" amphibious sightseeing vehicles which are seen in many cities, these days. Ottawa has a number of these monstrosities blocking traffic during tourist season.

Nothing beats making tourists stick out like sore thumbs.

A warning for the ladies

Don't visit the Heel Building!

The Case of the Toppled Tourists

Wow, no sidewalls, safety belts or anything. I don't imagine those bus boats were in service for very long.


I can't get over how well dressed this visiting group is. If you wander over to Times Square, or even the Flatiron these days you see a lot of people in shorts and T-shirts, many overweight and continuously munching. The more formally dressed 1904 crowd may have been a bit much, but somewhere in between there is an answer.

Hard work.

It must have been a real handful to navigate that beast through the streets of Manhattan.

How very useful

A Telephone Connection is mentioned on the omnibuses - but not the number.


What about the ghost lady in the back?

The choice of the future

It was a time when there was not yet a clear choice on which energy would propel the cars and trucks. You had electric engines, gasoline engines and even steam engines in almost equal numbers on the streets.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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