Aiken was the niece of Day Baker, the head of the Electric Vehicle Club of Boston, with whom she lived on Winthrop Road. But the former Runkle School student was no mere figurehead. She was New England representative of the Buffalo-based Babcock Electric Carriage Company, responsible for sales throughout the six-state region.
|Promotional postcard for Virginia Aiken, Babcock Electrics|
(Click image for larger view)
|Ad for Virginia Aiken's Babcock Electric dealership, Boston Post, May 9, 1912|
|The Brandon Garage at 643 Washington Street was Virginia Aiken's base of operation.|
Source: WardMaps LLC
The Automobile Journal, 1912
Aiken spent most of her childhood in Chicago. In 1910 or 1911 she moved to Brookline to live with her father's sister Viola and Viola's husband Day Baker and to take advantage of the better educational opportunities in the Boston area. They lived at 145 Winthrop Road. Virginia enrolled at the Runkle School and later at Miss Haskell's School for Girls on Marlborough Street.
Day Baker was New England agent for an electric truck manufacturer and a prominent advocate for electric vehicles. His efforts brought him into contact with Thomas Edison and he became New England representative of the Edison Storage Battery Company which made batteries for automobiles and trucks. (Edison's 22-year old son Charles was one of the ushers at an 18th birthday dance thrown for Aiken by her aunt and uncle at Brookline's Gardner Hall.)
A lengthy 1912 profile of Aiken in The Automobile Journal told how she obtained a license and drove thousands of miles, most of them in electrics. And as the Boston Globe reported:
For some months she has been seen in her pearl gray Victoria around the congested streets of the city, driving in and out among carriages, wagons, street cars and great trucks, or on the streets and boulevards of the suburbs. People have stopped and wondered at the ease and grace with which she handled her automobile, but she always smilingly disclaims any especial skill and replies "You know, it's no trouble to operate; you don't have to crank it, nor do you have a whole lot of levers about which to think: it is so simple to run—it's electric."
But her interest in cars, reported The Automobile Journal, went beyond driving.
Now, Miss Aiken is practical and she began to study the electric carriage with keen enthusiasm. Instead of merely giving attention to the maintenance and care she went back to rudiments and systematically acquired knowledge concerning the battery and the motor. She studied electrical subjects carefully and mastered each with its particular reference to vehicles. She was fortunate in having her uncle as an adviser and under his direction she was able to apply her knowledge to good advantage.
Constantly using the electric machines she met with all conditions that might be encountered and it was with extreme satisfaction that she solved all problems and successfully met every situation. The girl did not hesitate to work about the cars whenever necessary. She found delight in mechanical work and did it surprisingly well.
When Francis Babcock, founder of the Babcock Electric Carriage Company, visited Boston and met Aiken he suggested she become his New England agent and helped set her up in business. Aiken told the Boston Globe she planned to use the profits from the business to pay for her education.
The budding entrepreneur also understood the value of good marketing. She put half of the profits of her first sale into promotion, including newspaper advertisements and engraved notes. "[T]his, and her energetic work, [reported The Automobile Journal] brought to her other customers."
Electric vehicles were sometimes marketed specifically to women, and Aiken's unusual position as a female agent may have helped. She was interviewed by the Boston Post for a July 1912 article that ran under the headline "Miss Aiken's Advice to Women Motorists."
"Why, yes, [she told the reporter] I know it does you good to ride in an electric—it has done me good—don't I look the model healthy electric young woman? Seriously, I do believe that it gives one good health, a good appetite and good control of one's nerves to operate an electric vehicle.
I have in mind a Newton lady who has one of our cars—she drives it herself, charges it with a mercury arc rectifier in her own little garage and looks after her battery herself. She takes great enjoyment in looking after all these little details herself. The out-of-door air exercise that she gets in caring for her car and the long rides which she takes almost daily keep her in the best of health.
No, you newspaper men cannot too strongly urge the driving of electric automobiles by the ladies of Boston as a health-giving and enjoyable method of regaining and keeping health, but it does not end with the health question. The convenience of making calls, shopping, attending church and social functions are all points that are worthy of mention—but of course good health is always a strong argument.
The 1912 advertisement below for Aiken's display at the Boston Auto Show illustrates how Babcock Electrics were marketed especially to women. ("The Runabout for Misses. The Victoria for Ladies".)
|Ad for Virginia Aiken's display at the Boston Auto Show Boston Post, March 3, 1912|
While Miss Aiken will retain an interest in the Buffalo electric, it is her intention, after the electric show, to devote the most of her time to studies and music, believing that the proportions to which she has brought the business warrant placing it in the hands of a large automobile sales establishment. Full details of this move will be announced later.
I have not been able to find any such later announcement but there were no further mentions of her dealership after 1912.
|Boston Post, March 30, 1918|
The Aiken-Smith marriage never happened. Instead, on Christmas Eve 1919 in Chicago, Aiken married a Swiss immigrant named Robert (or Roberto) Tranquillo Pellandini. They had a daughter, born in Chicago in 1921, and lived for several years in Mexico where Robert Pellandini's family had business interests. (Virginia Pellandini took Swiss citizenship and had to reapply for U.S. citizenship when they returned in 1925.)
The Pellandinis were frequently on the move. They lived, at various times, in Chicago, Mexico City, Easton, Brockton, and Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Lorain, Ohio, before settling in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Robert had several jobs, as listed in directories and census records, including sales manager for a shovel and tool company and accountant with the Ford Motor Company. No further career information is listed for Virginia.
Robert Pellandini died in 1980. Virginia Aiken Pellandini died, at age 92, in Hot Springs in 1987.
|Gravesite of Robert and Virginia (Aiken) Pellandini |
Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Hot Springs, Arkansas
- "Advertising Pays: Miss Virginia E. Aiken, Agent for Babcock Electrics, Believes in Using Newspaper Power." Boston Globe, December 11, 1911
- "The Youngest Electrical Vehicle Agent" The Central Station, January 1912
- "16-Year Old Girl Sells the Babcock Electrics." Boston Post, March 6, 1912
- "A Young Lady Electric-Vehicle Representative at Boston" Electrical World, April 6, 1912
- "School Girl New England Babcock Agent" The Automobile Journal, Spring 1912
- "Parade of Electric Trucks" Boston Transcript, May 29, 1912
- "Electric Vehicles Parade" Boston Post, May 31, 1912
- "Second Annual Vehicle Parade" The Motor Truck, July 1912
- "Miss Aiken's Advice to Women Motorists" Boston Post, July 28, 1912
- "Latest Buffalo Electric" The Automobile Journal, Fall 1912