The History and Advantages of Electric Cars
Early electric vehicles may have appeared as early as 1830. Scottish inventor Robert Davidson constructed the world's first prototype electric vehicle in 1837, but historians generally credit J.K. Starley, an English inventor, and Fred M. Kimball of Boston with building the first practical electric cars in 1888. Later in the in the decade, William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, constructed his version of the electric vehicle in 1891. His vehicle required 24 storage battery cells, took 10 hours to charge, and could run for 13 hours. It could carry up to 12 people and had a 4-horsepower motor. His car could reach speeds up to 14 miles per hour. Morrison, however, never mass-produced his vehicle. The first commercially produced electric vehicle was the Electrobat. It was manufactured by Philadelphia-based Morris and Salom Company. In 1896, the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago became the first American manufacturer of electric cars.
The Electrobat was one of several electric cars, which competed in a race sponsored by Illinois publisher H.H. Kohlsaat. He had challenged inventors to come up with a car that could travel the distance from Chicago to Evanston and back (58 miles). Electric cars and gas cars competed against each other in this competition. Although none of the cars performed in an especially notable manner, the electric cars failed miserably. It seemed that the slushy country roads generated a great deal of friction, which drained the strength of the batteries quickly.
Shortly after the Kohlsaat race, Thomas Edison said he believed gasoline, not electricity, would provide the dominant power source for the automobile of the future. "As it looks at the present," he said, "it would seem more likely that (the cars) will be run by a gasoline or naphtha motor of some kind. It is quite possible. However, that an electric storage battery will be discovered which will prove more economical, but at the present the gasoline or naphtha motor looks more promising. It is only a question of a short time carriages and trucks in every large city will be run on motors." Thomas Edison seemed to predict the future.
Even so, in 1904 one-third of all the cars in New York City, Chicago, and Boston were electrically powered. By 1912, there were 20,000 electric cars and 10,000 electric busses and trucks were on the road in the United States. Only a handful of manufactures, notably Baker and Detroit Electric, made it into the 1930's. Former President Woodrow Wilson owned one of the most elegant cars of the period, a 1918 Milburn Electric.
In the 1960's and 1970's a handful of electric car manufactures started to reappear because of the increasing concern about air pollution and a depleting supplies of petroleum. In the late 1970's and 1980's, manufactures started developing electric cars called hybrids. These cars have all the components of the electric cars plus an internal-combustion engine. In...