Professor Judie Rae
16 November 2014
The History of Electric Cars
There are about 1.015 billion cars in the world today (Sousanis). They produce over one third of the world’s carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in our atmosphere, and over twenty percent of the global warming pollution (Cars). It is estimated that, by the year 2035, there will be 1.7 billion cars on the road (LeBeau). Cars have been a major contributor to the fact that carbon dioxide concentrations are more than 30% higher than in pre-industrial times. What can we do to prevent our means of transportation from destroying this earth? Well, the most logical solution would be to replace our gas powered cars with electric vehicles. Most people believe that electric cars are a modern invention, but actually they have a long history tracing back to the late 1800s. The automobile is an invention that can be credited to many different inventors. They were originally called "horseless carriages" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and were powered by steam, which was the high-tech propulsion method of its day (Fuller). However, the first man to think of the idea of making an electric powered carriage was a Scottish inventor named Robert Anderson, who built a crude battery-propelled carriage sometime between 1832 and 1839 (Fuller). The batteries weren't rechargeable, so Anderson's electric vehicle didn't make much of a splash in the world at the time. However, despite being somewhat of a footnote in automotive history books, Anderson was credited as the first inventor of the electric car (Fuller)
In 1859 French physicist Gaston Planté invented the first rechargeable lead-acid storage battery (Timeline). This invention lead to the first commercially successful electric car. William Morrison, who was a chemist from Des Moines, Iowa, introduced his vehicle in the early 1890s (Fuller). It was able to carry six people and it had an official top speed of fourteen miles per hour, however there are several who claimed it was actually able to reach a top speed of twenty miles per hour (Fuller). During the time period horses were the most common mode of personal transportation, which travelled at the speed of three to four miles per hour. So, in comparison to what people were used to, Morrison’s electric vehicle was considered respectably fast (Burns). Morrison, who like Robert Anderson, was Scottish-born but had immigrated to the United States at an early age, was mainly interested in developing batteries and his electric vehicle ran on a set of 24 rechargeable cells (Fuller). Unfortunately, they needed to be recharged every 50 miles, which limited Morrison's car as a practical mode of transportation (Fuller).
America was not the only country interested in developing electric cars. France and Great Britain were the first countries to support widespread development of electric cars (Bellis). Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the sports car company Porsche, developed an electric car called the P1 in 1898. Near the same time he created the world’s first hybrid electric car, which is a vehicle that is powered by an electricity and a gas engine (The History). In 1899, a Belgian built electric racing car, designed by Camille Jénatzy and called "La Jamais Contente," set a world record for land speed (Bellis). It reached a top speed of 68 miles per hour (Bellis).
In 1897 a fleet of 60 taxis hit the roads of New York City (The History). They were built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company in Philadelphia (Bellis). Also in 1897 the Pope Manufacturing Company of Connecticut became the first large-scale American electric automobile manufacturer (Timeline). During the turn of the century, America was prosperous and the electric car was in its heyday. Cars were available in steam, electric, or gasoline versions. There had been 4,192 cars produced in the United States by the year 1900, and 28 percent were powered by electricity (Timeline). Also, electric