Ask Smithsonian Geico Smithsonian Member Offer Ask Smithsonian

Why Were Electric Cars Once Advertised as “Ladies’ Cars”?

Your questions answered by our experts

(Sarah Ferone)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Why were electric cars of the early 1900s advertised as “ladies’ cars”?

Chris Jones, Columbiana, Alabama

It was because car manufacturers, car dealers and the rest of society assumed that women lacked the mechanical aptitude and physical strength to drive and maintain gasoline-powered vehicles, says Roger White, curator of road transportation at the National Museum of American History. Electric cars were easier to control, less greasy and required little technical knowledge to drive. They also had limited range and speed, which tended to keep women close to home—an effect that some people considered a good thing. But some pioneering women not only chose gasoline-powered cars, they raced them and drove them across the continent.

What are the diameter and depth of the saucer of the starship Enterprise model?

Mike Kellner, Marengo, Illinois

It depends on where you measure, says Margaret Weitekamp, curator at the National Air and Space Museum. The Enterprise model that appeared in the original “Star Trek” series was made by hand, so the saucer is not a perfect circle. The saucer’s general diameter is 59.3 inches, and its overall depth is 15.25 inches. The entire model, with nacelles, is 11 feet long.

What were the religious beliefs of African slaves brought to America?

Stormy Minter, San Diego, California

Long before the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africans practiced Christianity, Islam and religious traditions we call “indigenous,” says Yolanda Pierce, supervisory curator of religion and the head of the Center for African American Religious Life at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Some indigenous faiths held that there was a creator god and some were polytheistic, but most prioritized honoring ancestors and living in harmony with both the spiritual and material worlds.

How do fish and marine mammals survive the pressure of the ocean depths?

Carl S. Moisoff, Crown Point, Indiana

Deep-sea fishes have adapted to maintain similar pressure within their bodies as exists externally, says Carole Baldwin, marine biologist at the National Museum of Natural History. They don’t get crushed because they are mostly water, and water is not compressible. And they don’t have compressible organs, such as mammals’ lungs. Deep-diving marine mammals do have lungs that collapse at depth, but during dives the animals rely on oxygen already stored in the body.

Unlike the other planets, Uranus essentially rotates on its side. Why?

Madeline Lasecki, Pulaski, Wisconsin

Most likely, it was knocked sideways early in its formative years, says Jim Zimbelman, geologist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. A collision with a very large object—or even two, as recent French research suggests—is about the only means of generating the energy required to overcome the gyroscopic effect that keeps most planets spinning like a top around a fairly stable rotation axis.

It's your turn to Ask Smithsonian.

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus