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Early American Electric Automobile History

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The first public demonstration of the electric motor as a means of providing motive power for transportation was made by Thomas Davenport, of Brandon, Vermont, in the year 1835. A similar exhibition followed the following year by Charles Page of Salem, MA. In 1851, Charles Page demonstrated a electric motor car capable of 16 MPH.

However, the biggest problem with the Electric Automobile in the 1800s was that the storage battery had not yet been invented. Motors had to be connected to a life giving umbilical cord.

It was not until 1881 that the batteries and charging methods had been developed to the point where a true American Electric Automobile became possible. Claims of the first American Electric Automobile included a tricycle operated by an electric motor and built by H. S. Possons in 1886. A small one passenger vehicle is attributed to F. M. Kimbal in 1888. William Morrison also claimed to be first with his Quadracycle. However, research now points to 1896. William Morrison is given credit for making substantial contributions to early American Electric Automobiles.

In any case the above claims clearly show that the American Electric Automobile was way ahead of the internal combustion automobiles. After 1890 things began moving fast. The horseless carriage market virtually exploded with activity in all area's including gasoline, steam and electric automobiles. By 1895 it was reported that 70 different motor vehicles were either built, being built or planned. Of these 37 had internal combustion engines, 9 involved steam, 12 were electric and the rest were an odd assortment of exotic projects. By 1900 Electric Automobiles accounted for 38% of American Automobiles, while gasoline vehicles accounted for only 22% and 40% were steam powered.

1895 Electrobat Electric Automobile
Morris & Salom's Of Philadelphia - 1895 Electrobat Electric Automobile

The first Electric Automobile ever constructed in Philadelphia appeared on the streets of that city in 1895. It was the joint labor of Henry G. Morris, mechanical engineer and Pedro G. Salom, electrician, and was built purely for experimental purposes. The controller regulating the current is placed in front of the footboard and is operated by a shaft and crank immediately below the steering wheel. The battery consists of 60 Chloride Accumulators of 100 ampere hours capacity each, and its electrical capacity is 13 H. P., at the maximum discharge rate. The motor was a nominal 3 Horsepower Electric Launch type, built by the General Electric Company, and capable of developing for a short time 9 Horsepower. Morris & Salom adopted the original name "Electrobat" for these new vehicles.

1903 Baker Electric
1903 Detroit Auto Show - Baker Electric Automobiles

If we were to choose a date when the self propelled vehicle appeared as a replacement for the horse drawn carriage, it would be 1895. By 1895 all of the three basic forms of power - gasoline, steam and electric had been invented. Reports in 1900 indicate that the market for American Automobiles were equally divided between steam, gasoline and electric. Enthusiasm for the electric vehicle was strong at this time because of its quietness when compared to gasoline powered vehicle and it's ease in starting. The only thing holding the American Electric Automobile back from taking over the American Automobile market was the storage battery.

1908 Studebaker Victoria Phaeton
1908 Studebaker Victoria Phaeton

Enthusiasm for the American Electric Automobile was sufficient for Thomas Edison to tackle the problem of finding a better electric vehicle battery. In 1901 Edison invented the nickel-iron battery. However, the Edison battery is was costly and very heavy. By 1909 Edison invented several new storage batteries that revolutionized the Electric Automobile industry.

1910 Detroit Electric
1910 Detroit Electric

1900 to 1912 was considered the golden age for American Electric vehicles. During the same time the gasoline powered vehicle was developing very rapidly. Henry Ford's model K in 1906 and later the 1909 model T appeared and created a real challenge for the American Electric vehicle. But somehow the electrics clung to a certain share of the market and would continue to do well past 1912 and as long as 1920.

1914 General Electric Charging Station
1914 General Electric Charging Station

"There's No Place Like Home For Charging Your Electric" claimed this 1914 General Electric station advertisement.  The rectifiers mentioned in this ad were used to convert alternating Current (110 volt AC) into a direct current ( DC ) needed to charge Electric Automobile batteries.

General Electric WattStation
General Electric WattStation

General Electric came out with their WattStation recently and continues a century of innovation in the design and manufacturing of electrical charging systems for a new wave of American Electric Automobiles. The WattStation shown above can be installed for cities and businesses and includes a smaller residential WattStation for home use.

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