Definition History Cars Boats Rec. Vehicles Blog Dealers
Conversions Technology Trucks Motorcycles Utility Forum Classified

Electric Vehicles History Part III

Early History (cont'd)

On August 1, 1881 French inventor Gustave Trouve made his benchmark report to the French Academy of Sciences, stating: “I had the honour to submit to this Academy, in the session of 7th July 1880, a new electric motor based on the eccentricity of the Siemens coil flange. By suggestive studies, which have allowed me to reduce the weight of all the components of the motor, I have succeeded in obtaining an output which to me appears quite remarkable."

French inventor Gustave Trouve developed the first practical marine outboard in 1880 -- and it was powered by electricity.

Gustave Trouve

Trouve could not only lay claim to the world’s first marine outboard engine but, in taking the same motor and adapting it as the drive mechanism of a Coventry-Rotary pedal tricycle or velocipede, Trouve also pioneered the world’s first electric vehicle. In November 1881, Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled automobile at the International Exhibition of Electricity in Paris.

Trouve and three friends cruised the Seine in silence aboard a 17-foot launch with an electric motor powered by two bichromate of potassium batteries. By 1890, Trouve motors powered 100 boats in Europe.

In 1881 Charles Jeantaud, Parisian engineer and carriage builder, with help from Camille Faure (inventor of the pasted plate battery), built an electric vehicle in France. The car was made from a Tilbury style buggy with a Gramme motor and the Fulmen battery (Faure's patent).

Also in 1881, Englishmen William Ayrton & John Perry of England built an electric tricycle with two large wheels at the rear, with the right one driven, and a small wheel up front (the first electric wheelchair), with electric lights. The electric tricycle used ten of Planté's lead acid cells in series, providing 1/2 horsepower. The speed was changed by switching the lead acid batteries on and off one after another. The trike was capable of a range between 10 and 25 miles and a maximum speed of 9 mph, depending on terrain. Ayrton and Perry's tricycle was the very first vehicle to have electric lighting.

William Ayrton

Ayrton Perry Electric Trike1881

John Perry

The Elwell-Parker Ltd. was formed in October, 1882 (Thomas Parker the engineer and Paul Bedford Elwell the financier) at Wolverhampton, England and made the Parker-designed high-capacity rechargeable batteries. Parker and Elwell had previously collaborated to produce one of the first accumulators. Their company soon expanded into dynamos, motors, and controllers. By 1890 Thomas Parker’s battery-powered trams were carrying passengers around Birmingham, England. His electrically-operated trams had been carrying passengers around Blackpool for the previous five years. He claimed to have had an electrically powered vehicle running as early as 1884 and developed many prototypes during his lifetime. He religiously obeyed the Light Locomotive Act, the red flag law, which was only banished in 1896. The red flag law set a speed limit of 4m.p.h. in open country and 2 m.p.h. in towns. The Act required three drivers for each vehicle, two to travel in the vehicle and one to walk ahead carrying a red flag.

In 1888 Elwell-Parker Ltd. agreed to consolidated with other companies to form the Electric Construction Corporation which incorporated in 1889. The company produced almost every conceivable piece of electrical equipment including alternators, dynamos, motors, accumulators, transformers, electrical switchboards, high voltage switches, voltmeter switches, arc lamps, and gas tight motors for electric pumps and electric cranes.

Elwell-Parker established a US branch, the Elwell-Parker Electric Co., in Cleveland, Ohio. The US branch was established in 1892 at 4224 St. Clair Ave. and was managed by M.S. Towson.

Elwell-Parker manufactured electric locomotives and omnibuses in England and introduced their first "electric dog cart" in 1896.

Although Thomas Parker left the Electric Construction Corp. to start his own company in 1894, he is credited with the design and manufacture of the 'electric dog-cart', which was built in 1896. Reins were used to steer the vehicle because Mr. A. B. Blackburn, who was works manager, enjoyed horse riding and so the vehicle had to be as similar as possible to a horse-drawn one. The operation of the motor controller was by sliding seat.

Some of Thomas's later vehicles had hydraulic brakes on all four wheels, as well as four-wheel steering. These features are even now being described as revolutionary.

Thomas Parker (1843-1915) and his dog.
Courtesy of Gail Tudor.

One of Thomas Parker's early cars outside the family home; The Manor House, Upper Green, Tettenhall. Thomas is in the middle and on the back seat is possibly his son Alfred.

College Dropout Builds Electric Trike in Parent’s Basement

In 1884 Andrew L. Riker dropped out of school after the first year of college and started experimenting with electric motors and a battery (that he built) to a Coventry bicycle. The work in his parent's basement resulted in a two-passenger trike that had a 25-mile range using a series of lead-sulfuric acid batteries. Like the bikes of that time it had a tubular steel frame, wire wheels, and pneumatic tires. In 1888 Andrew Riker founded the Riker Electric Vehicle Company based in Elizabeth Port, New Jersey.



1888: Philip W. Pratt demonstrates the very first American electric tricycle.

Philip Pratt’s e-trike was built for him by Fred M. Kimball of the Fred M. Kimball Company. The vehicle’s 10 lead-acid cells created 20 volts to a 0.5 horsepower DC motor. The driver sat above the battery assemblage. The whole setup weighed about 300 pounds and had a top speed of eight miles-per-hour.

The Pratt-Kimball device wasn’t the first electric tricycle in the world — that milestone belongs to British engineers William Ayrton and John Perry — but it led the way to American innovation in self-propelled vehicles.


Pratt took the editor of Modern Light and Heat for a spin around Winthrop Square (above stereogram) in Boston.

Mr. Pratt may indeed deserve the title of "father of the American electric automobile." His invention might well have gone unnoticed but for the journalistic professionalism of the editor of a short-lived Boston magazine devoted to the wonders of electricity, Modern Light and Heat. Writing in the issue of August 2, 1888, the editor noted, "We received an invitation last Friday from a gentleman who is giving much attention to electric vehicles--Mr. P.W. Pratt of Boston--to take a ride on an electric tricycle that had just been completed for him by a well-know electrical manufacturing concern of this city."

Power was supplied by "six cells of the Electrical Accumulator Company's storage batteries, weighing all told, 90 pounds and a specially constructed tricycle motor connected to the driving apparatus by chain gearing." The date of this demonstration of Pratt's electric tricycle was July 27, 1888.

1888 – Immisch & Company built a four-passenger carriage, powered by a one- horsepower motor and 24-cell battery, for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In the same year, Magnus Volk in Brighton, England made a three-wheeled electric car.

William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa built the first successful electric automobile in the United States in 1891.

Born in Scotland Morrison arrived in Des Moines in 1880 as a chemist. In 1887 he made an unsuccessful attempt to build a car but the center-pivot steering didn't work. He then commissioned a fringe top surrey from the Des Moines Buggy Company, that he electrified in September of 1890, to demonstrate his new battery (patented 1891 with L. Schmidt). It may have been the first land vehicle steered with a wheel, and featured his patented rack and pinion steering gear (Immisch may have done both a year earlier). Watchmaker Dr. Lew Arntz did the mechanical modifications. Powered by 24 of his lead-acid storage cells (48 volts) with 112 Ampere-hours capacity it weighed two tons. A spur gear on a four horse-power Siemens trolley-car motor, that Morrison rewound to work at a lower voltage more practical for battery application (about 15% of trolley car voltage), this drove a large ring gear on the right rear wheel. This car became very influential when the American Battery Company of Chicago purchased it for $3,600 to demonstrate their commercial version of the Morrison battery at the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition. At the fair almost everyone who would be influential in early motoring history saw the carriage.

The first successful electric car in the United States was built in Des Moines, Iowa by William Morrison in 1891.The four-horsepower vehicle had a top speed of 20 mph and could carry up to 12 passengers. It was powered by 24 battery cells that were stored under the seats and needed recharging every 50 miles.

It has been said the car was actually completed in 1887 and was driven in a Des Moines parade in 1888.




1893 The "World's Colombian Exposition" opened in Chicago introducing the age of electricity to millions. Morrison's car was there and impressed Albert Pope, and most of the other people who made early cars, leading to the proliferation of electric cars in the late 1890's and early 1900's.





The Jeantaud was a French automobile manufactured in Paris from 1893 until 1906.

It was the brainchild of Charles Jeantaud. Among the vehicles he constructed was the first car to set a land speed record (39.24 mph (63.15 km/h) , driven by Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat), as well as coupes and hansom cabs; in these the driver sat high, and to the rear. Some cars had an unusual bevel-gear front-wheel-drive layout. (More about Jeantaud follows below.)

1894 The Electrobat was the first successful electric automobile. It was designed and built by mechanical engineer Henry G. Morris and chemist Pedro G. Salom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both had backgrounds in battery streetcars and, as the battery streetcar business was fading, they teamed up to make battery road vehicles. Their effort was patented on August 31, 1894. Built like a small version of a battery streetcar, it was a slow (it ran at 15 mph), heavy, impractical vehicle with steel tires to support the immense weight of its large lead battery. It entered production in 1895. Later they redesigned the Electrobat (with some help from Walter Baker's axles and bearings) first as a racecar then as an electric hansom cab.

Electrobat 1894


 In 1896, building off the Electrobat, Morris and Salom construct their two-seater Electric Road Wagon and formed the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, evidently the first electric car company in America. The Electric Road Wagon was developed into a series of coupes and hansoms for use as taxis in New York. These vehicles had rear-wheel steering, two 1/2 hp motors, and 44 lead-acid cells which gave them a range of 30 miles. Their company was purchased by Isaac L. Rice of Electric Storage Battery. Along with Pope (Columbia) and Riker, these companies combined and were the foundation for the Electric Vehicle Company and the "lead cab" syndicate (1899) which tried early to monopolize the automobile industry in America but failed to do so.

Louis Antoine Krieger (1868-1951) started making electric horseless carriages in Paris in 1894. The Krieger electric landaulet had a drive motor in each front wheel with a second set of parallel windings (bifilar coil) for regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is used to recoup some of the energy lost during stopping. This energy is saved in a storage battery and used later to power the motor. Some vehicles driven by electric motors use the motor as a generator during braking and its output is supplied to an electrical load; the transfer of energy to the load provides the braking effect.

This 1903 Krieger is a front wheel drive electric-gasoline hybrid car and has power steering. A gasoline engine supplements the battery pack.

Washington, D.C., circa 1906. Senator George P. Wetmore, Rhode Island, with his wife in a Krieger electric landaulet.

American Electric Vehicle Co. Chicago IL. incorporated early 1896 by an MIT grad in electrical & mechanical engineering Clinton Edgar Woods, with capitol stock of $250,000. They company had a car on the streets by May. The car featured Baker designed ball bearing axels, solid rubber tires, and twin motor chain drive at the rear wheels. By 1899 C. E. Woods was involved in a new company under his own name called the Woods Motor Vehicle Company. American became Waverley.

1896 Thomas Parker built an electric bus, with hydraulic brakes, featuring his series/parallel motor control system.

Hiram Percy Maxim  was hired (1895) by Hayden Eames to design the Columbia Electric Buggy for the Pope Manufacturing Co, the dominant maker of bicycles. The first car Maxim built was a gasoline tricycle, but Albert A. Pope was not impressed. Pope told Maxim, "You'll never get people to sit over an explosion". In April 1896 they introduced the first practical commercially available electric car. Built with bicycle technologies of steel tube, ball bearings, and wire wheels. The car was the first to use the Maxim designed worm and sector steering gear. Top speed was about 12 mph, the weakness then as always was the battery. Maxim believed that the internal combustion engine was the future. (Incidentally, Maxim was the man responsible for transferring automobile controls from the right-hand side of cars to the left-hand). Pope favored electrics. By the turn of the century (as the Electric Vehicle Company) the company had become the leading manufacturer of electric vehicles, producing as many as a thousand taxis (based on the Electrobat and Riker cabs). The Lead Cab Trust's plans for a fleet of 12,000 vehicles and a $200-million capitalization were torpedoed by the poor performance of its electric cabs and by financial shenanigans. Too-frequent recycling of cab batteries shortened their lives. Revelations about fiscal manipulation and a $2-million loan to a clerk only added to its woes. Eventually, the EVC returned to electric car manufacturing. After the failure of that enterprise, the company was to lead the Selden patent suit against Ford. They went bankrupt in 1907, and lost the suit in 1911. The patent lapsed in 1912.

The Belgian gun maker Pieper started making electric cars in 1889; in 1896 the son Henri made the "Auto-Mixte" a parallel hybrid with one mode at a time.

1897 – The London Electric Cab Company began regular service using cars designed by Walter Bersey. The Bersey Cab, which used a 40-cell battery  and 3 horsepower electric motor, could be driven 50 miles between charges.


The first electric taxis hit the streets of New York City in 1897. Before the 1920s, electric automobiles were competing with petroleum-fueled cars for urban use of a quality service car. In 1897, electric vehicles found their first commercial application in the U.S. as a fleet of electrical New York City taxis, built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia. (Electric Vehicle Company)


New York City Taxi 1901

1897  Elwell-Parker started marketing series wound, low (36-72) voltage (industrial motors ran at 110/220 volts, traction motors for streetcars ran at 200-600 volts), high amperage, direct current motors for battery-powered transportation. Designed by M. S. Towson at the suggestion of Theodore Willard (of Willard Battery). Clients included Babcock, Baker, Columbia, Johnson-Hewitt, Strong & Rogers, Waverly, and Woods.

1898 – The German Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, at age 23, built his first car, the Lohner Electric Chaise. With a hub-motor at each driving wheel it was the world’s first front-wheel-drive. Porsche’s second car was a hybrid, using an internal combustion engine to spin a generator that provided power to electric motors located in the wheel hubs. On battery alone, the car could travel nearly 40 miles.

The first speed record ever recorded for an automobile was done on December 18, 1898 in an electric vehicle. On that day Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris, France, became the fastest man alive. The Count had driven his speed demon electric vehicle Jeantaud to speeds never known before or experienced by any human. This speed was a phenomenal 39 miles for per hour.

The Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris, France on his electric vehicle the Jeantaud. Near Paris on the 4th March 1899 in this formidable vehicle weighing over 3,000lbs set a land speed record of 39.245 mph.

Many historians regard the Jeantaud to be the first automobile to be steered by a modern steering wheel instead of a tiller.

This auspicious event earned Count Gaston the nickname "the Electric Count." On December 18th, 1898 Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat (the "Electric Count") set the world's first official land-speed record near Paris. The new record was set in his electric Jeantaud automobile at a hair-raising speed of 39.245mph (62.8 kph). The car employed a single electric motor and was powered by Fulman alkaline batteries.

Unfortunately for our "Electric Count," the record would last just a few days before it would fall to a faster electric vehicle.

As word spread about this tremendous achievement, the Belgian Camille Jenatzy traveled to Paris to challenge the Count to a dual of sorts. In the Counts presence, on January 17, 1899, Camille Jenatzy took a CGA Dogcart powered by one 80 cell Fulmen lead acid battery to 41.420 miles an hour.

The Electric Count, prompted by the challenge, immediately took out the Jeantaud and drove it to an unparalleled speed of 43.6 miles an hour the same day. Both challengers, having spent their batteries, separated themselves from the field of battle.

Not to be out done, Camille Jenatzy returned ten days later on January 27th and took his vehicle to 49.92 miles an hour. Annoyed by the persistent Belgian, the Count tweaked his vehicle and came out on March 4, with a renewed conviction to go faster. He did going 57.6 miles an hour. After reaching that speed I am sure he thought that the man in the Dogcart would never return to try to go faster than that. Camille Jenatzy was not satisfied with the results and vowed to return.

Camille Jenatzy and the rocket-shaped Jamais Contente

He returned on April 29th with his now famous artillery shaped "Jamais Contente" vehicle, modified with not one but two 80 cell Fulmen lead acid batteries. This time Jeatzy was going for a TKO. He drove the "Jamais Contente," which in English means Never Satisfied, to a record speed of 65.79 miles per hour. Nothing known at the time, neither man nor beast, had ever traveled as fast. The Electric Count simply could not match the challenge and the record stood until the insane imaginings of a sewing machine manufacturer decided he could go faster.

Picture of Camille Jenatzy and his wife riding the Jamais Contente vehicle.

Camille Jenatzy (1868-1913) was a Belgian race car driver. He is known for breaking the land speed record three times and being the first man to break the 100 km/h barrier. He was nicknamed Le Diable Rouge ("The Red Devil") after the color of his beard .

"La Jamais Contente" Detail: rear wheel, reconstruction of Museum Autovision, Altlußheim, Germany.

Picture of La Jamais Contente vehicle

La Jamais Contente ("The Never Satisfied") was the first vehicle to go over 100 km/h (62 mph). It was an electric vehicle with a light alloy torpedo shaped bodywork, although the high position of the driver and the exposed chassis underneath spoiled much of the aerodynamics.

The land speed record was established, according to sources, on April 29 or May 1, 1899 at Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France. The vehicle had two direct drive Postel-Vinay 25 kW motors, running at 200 V drawing 124 Amperes for about 68 hp, and was equipped with Michelin tires. Chassis number was n°25.

La Jamais Contente

Also in 1899 Walter Baker established the Baker Motor Vehicle Company and began manufacturing Brass Era electric automobiles in Cleveland, Ohio. Baker is credited with many contributions to automotive design, which include the first shaft drive, first use of alloy steel, first "full floating" ball bearing rear axle, first horseless delivery wagon, and the first use of aerodynamic streamlining.

Prev 1 2 3 4 5 Next


Some information extracted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. See Terms of Use for details.Significant material contributed by Galen Handy

 About Us | Contact | Submissions | Privacy | Advertise | Site Map
Copyright 1998-Present by
Amish Pleasures, Inc. All rights reserved.