Who invented the first Electric Car?

Electric Car

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Who invented the Plug-in car

The earliest recorded invention of an electric car like contraption was probably by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s. It was a very basic electric carriage but was the forerunner of more carriage-like machines which arrived later, including Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of Groningen’s design which was built in Holland by his assistant Christopher Becker in 1835.

Stratingh had earlier designed prototypes of steam powered vehicles, but he was unable to improve on his peculiar three wheel electric cart as he died soon after.

American, Thomas Davenport and Scotsman, Robert Davidson, meanwhile were developing vehicles with non-rechargeable electric cells but in 1859, the French physicist Gaston Plante invented the lead-acid battery. The lead-acid battery eventually became the first rechargeable electric battery marketed for commercial use. Subsequent improvements to this rechargeable battery allowed electric vehicles to become a more cost effective and viable transport option.

The first countries to commercially develop the electric car were France and Great Britain. The first electric racing soon followed and Belgium racing driver Camille Janatzy in “La Jamais Contente” in 1899 set a world record for land speed – 68 mph. He is famous for breaking the land speed record three times and being the first man to break the 100 km/h barrier.

Electric Cars in the Twentieth Century

At the turn of the century American inventors began to lead the way. An electric tricycle was built by A. L. Ryker and William Morrison built a carriage with space for six passengers. Interest in the possibilities of this new technology began to intrigue creative minds around the world and a number of innovations followed. The first commercial employment of electric vehicles arrived in 1897 when the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia first built a fleet of New York City taxis.

One of the best-selling vehicles of the period was the Columbia Runabout, which could maintain 40 miles on a single charge and run at speeds up to 15 mph.

The early electric vehicles, such as the 1902 Wood’s Phaeton were essentially glorified, electric, horseless carriages. One of the first on the scene, the Phaeton, had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost a sizeable $2,000. Amazingly in 1916, Woods showed remarkable insight by inventing a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor!

At this stage in their development, electric vehicles had many advantages over their gas counterparts. Gas cars were much noisier and smellier than their equivalent heirs are today and electric vehicles were smoother and cleaner and gear changing, which was new to all drivers, was not necessary on electric vehicles.

Steam powered cars were also an alternative option to gas and electric, but they were problematic with less mileage possible before needing more water. Road quality was particularly bad at this time with only cities and towns having decent surfaces for travelling on.

Electric vehicles became steadily more popular because they did not require the physical effort to start that was required for gasoline powered vehicles which used a hand crank and the awkward gear shifter was not necessary.

The early electric models built for mass consumption could be picked up for around $1,000 in the early part of the 20th century, but often the richer elite would buy more expensive bespoke models. This was the first time that motorists bought cars as status symbols with exotic interiors and expensive upholstery.

Electric vehicles continued to grow in popularity into the early 1920s with production peaking in 1912.

So clearly the electric car predated the internal combustion engine by a few decades and its cleaner attributes, less noisy engines and the fact it didn’t backfire, helped it dominate the car market into the early 20th century.

The Emergence of Gas Powered Vehicles

The decline of the electric vehicle was facilitated by a number of factors. The superior range of driving afforded by petrol engines, gave them a distinct advantage, and as society became less localised and communities became more spread out, the need to go further, faster, became more prevalent.

As America reached the 1920s, the road system had improved dramatically, allowing for longer journeys in vehicles. With the new improved road network connecting cities, the demand for distance vehicles increased significantly. Electric cars would once again come to the fore as environmental concerns forced the car industry to search for alternatively fuelled vehicles. But for now the internal combustion engine was to leave electric vehicles behind as consumers demanded faster vehicles capable of travelling greater distances.

The abundance of crude oil led to a fall in the price of gasoline, which meant everyday motorists could afford longer trips. And soon new innovations were making motoring a less demanding pastime. The electric starter was developed by Charles Kettering in 1912 eliminated the need for the hand crank and the mass production of the internal combustion engine driven vehicle by Henry Ford made prices more affordable.

Ironically before her husband Henry’s mass production of gas-powered cars came to dominate the auto industry, Clara Ford drove a 1914 Detroit Electric, which is reported to have managed 80 miles without a charge

Unfortunately the electric vehicle could not compete with gas and the future of electrics appeared to have ran its course by the end of the 1930s. Had more research and foresight gone into electric car production, the tables might have been turned many believe. But the story doesn’t end here. Electric vehicles are now at the forefront of new technology in the motor industry and may yet still to come to dominate the motor car market and our roads once again.

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