First Lady Driver
Today’s automobile drivers should feel pretty modern if they have a battery powered car in their driveway. But in reality, when it comes to battery operated cars, there is truth to the adage, “everything old is new again.” In fact, battery operated electric cars were tried and rejected in the first generation of automobiles to hit Niagara County highways at the turn of the 20th century.
Back in 1901, the “horseless carriage” was all new and represented the wave of the future in transportation. Albert Dussault of 160 Genesee Street and his brother Joseph turned out the first automobile seen in Lockport. Purchasing the necessary parts, the brothers constructed their own gasoline engine, mounted it on a carriage body and away they went. In fact, Albert’s wife, was given the distinction of being the first woman to drive a horseless carriage in the city. Mrs. Dussault’s first trip was actually made with an electric car that she drove around town. For longer trips, Mrs. Dussault would venture outside the city with her hand-cranked, open-air gasoline powered car.
Mrs. Dussault talked about her distinction as Lockport’s “first woman driver” with the “Union Sun & Journal” in 1947. She said, “The streamlined, easy-riding cars of today (1947) are a far cry from the early 1900 models. My first electric, for instance, had no windshield and the folding top covered only half of the seat so that when it rained, it became necessary to spread a black waterproof covering - standard equipment in those days - over one’s lap and feet.” She recalled that early models could do an impressive 15 miles per hour. Few roads were improved and the electric car was limited to city travel because it could not climb the hills. She also remembered that her first Ford gasoline powered car did have a windshield along with other conveniences she had suggested to the manufacturer. Mrs. Dussault said she was plagued with frequent breakdowns along the way. On one trip to Buffalo, she stalled out at Main and Court Streets and stopped traffic for miles before she could get out and spin the engine with the crank. By then, she had gathered a huge crowd of gawkers to observe the ruckus.
With his wife setting the pace and driving around town, Mr. Dussault went on to become the first automobile dealer in Lockport. He opened up shop on Buffalo Street and later moved to the Big Bridge and eventually opened Dussault Garage and Agency on Richmond Avenue, one of the first Cadillac dealerships in the United States. Calvin Sutliff was the first Lockportian to purchase an electric car from the dealership. Dussault admitted that 98% of the improvements made to automobiles through the years were an attempt to please feminine drivers, who strongly favored electric starters, closed bodies and even interior upholstery. The other 2% of improvements, Dussault attributed to his male customers who wanted changes made under the hood.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094