I Did Not Know That: Many Early Autos Were EVS

October 25, 2022


Many advances and improvements led to the creation of the electric vehicle. One of the most notable figures in its history was the Hungarian inventor and engineer Ányos Jedlik, who created around 1828 the heart of all electric machines, the world’s first electric motor, which he later applied to a small model car. At the same time, the American blacksmith Thomas Davenport built a similar contraption in 1834 that ran on an electrified circular track. However, it is the Scottish entrepreneur and chemist Robert Anderson who is generally referred to as the father of the electric car. Between 1832 and 1839 he worked on and presented a prototype that offered an evolution of a traditional carriage powered by electric cells.

Many models were developed in later years, but the limitation of the battery (which was not rechargeable) made electric cars impractical. The real breakthrough came in 1859, when French scientist Gaston Planté invented rechargeable lead-acid batteries, which meant that the vehicle did not have to be connected to the grid. From that moment on, it was possible to store the energy for the vehicle to run. Furthermore, in 1881, the inventor Camille Faure perfected the model to the point of increasing the charging capacity of the batteries. These advances enabled the French engineer Gustave Trouvé to present a tricycle powered by an electric motor at the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris that year.

In 1888, what is considered to be the first electric car appeared in Germany, the Flocken Elektrowagen, invented by the inventor and entrepreneur Andreas Flocken. It had the design of a buggy, four wheels, a 0.7 kW motor, a 100 kg battery and could reach 15 km/h. The automotive world closed the 19th century with a historic milestone: in 1899, the Belgian Camille Jenatzy broke the 100 km/h speed barrier for the first time in the world, reaching a speed of 105.88 km/h.

Early EV


Following the advent of the rechargeable battery, the electric car became a hit in the early 20th century in cities. The first commercial users were New York taxi drivers. Some historians estimate that around one third of the cars on the streets of the United States were electric in 1900, while some sources claim that these vehicles outsold combustion engines in 1899 and 1900.

Taxi drivers in other cities such as London and Berlin followed suit, as did large hotels, which had fleets of electric vehicles to transport their guests. Among the vehicles sold were the Porsche Egger-Lohner P1 and the Baker Electric, and among the manufacturers, Ohio Baker Electric, which had batteries designed by Thomas Edison.

Electric cars became the vehicles of choice, especially for the upper classes because of their high price. They were noiseless, gave off no odour or fumes to make the occupants dirty, their range allowed them to cover everyday journeys, and electricity was beginning to reach most of the world, making them easy to recharge. A 1911 New York Times article described them as the cars of the future and stated that even petrol car manufacturers were using electric cars for their own personal use.


 Automatic start
Its main problem was solved: activating the engine. Previously, it was necessary to turn a crank to start the combustion engine, a tedious process for drivers, but by introducing an automatic starter, the driving experience changed favourably. 

 Chain production
In 1908 Henry Ford revolutionised the automobile industry by introducing the Ford T, a combustion car built on a production line system that made the final price considerably cheaper. In 1912, an electric car cost about USD 1,750 and a petrol car USD 650. 

 Discovery of oil reserves

The discovery of significant oil reserves around the world made gasoline an affordable commodity.

 Discovery of oil reserves

The primitive electricity generation and distribution infrastructures and the perception of the car’s range as one of the key points when making a purchase, relegated the electric car to the shadows. 


One Response to “I Did Not Know That: Many Early Autos Were EVS”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Wait a minute, just firing up my old Stanley Steamer, don’t forget that 40% of American-made cars in 1900 were steam-powered, before those new fangled “internal explosion engines” became popular.


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