First Electric Cars To Roam The Planet

The first electric cars, There was Edison before Tesla.

Electricity is the thing. There are no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse, no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.
-THOMAS EDISON
The history of the electric vehicle began in the mid-19th century. An electric vehicle held the vehicular land speed record until around 1900. The high cost, low top speed, and short range of electric vehicles, compared to later internal combustion engine vehicles, led to a worldwide decline in their use. At the beginning of the 21st century, interest in electric and other alternative fuel vehicles has increased due to growing concern over the problems associated with hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles, including damage to the environment caused by their emissions, and the sustainability of the current hydrocarbon-based transportation infrastructure.
First Electric Cars

c. 1900

An electric car being charged.

First Electric Cars

c. 1895

Thomas Edison poses with his first electric car, the Edison Baker, and one of its batteries.

Electric cars are not a recent innovation. They have been around as long as vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines.

First produced in the 1880s, electric cars gained popularity in the following decades for their ease of operation, and for being less smelly and noisy than their gasoline-powered counterparts.

With top speeds of only about 20 miles per hour and a limited range, they were primarily used by affluent drivers to get around cities. They were marketed to women in particular, as a quiet, clean car without fumes or a hand crank. Some even came disguised with fake radiators to make them more palatable to the male market.

First Electric Cars

(GERMANY OUT) Germany, Berlin. Kurfuerstendamm. Electric car constructed by Siemens & Halske. 1882 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

1882

Men ride on an electric car designed by Siemens and Halske outside of Berlin, Germany.

IMAGE: ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES

First Electric Cars

A Columbia Electric car, c1899. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

c. 1899

A Columbia electric car.

IMAGE: NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM/HERITAGE IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

First Electric Cars

Roger Wallace in his electric car, 1899. A Victorian man ina formal dress driving an early electric car. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

1899

Roger Wallace drives his electric car.

IMAGE: NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM/HERITAGE IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

First Electric Cars

Laurels for Camille Jenatzy (in driver’s seat), the first man to exceed 100 kph (62 mph) at Acheres, near Paris. The car, christened ‘Jamais Contente’, was an electric vehicle of his own design. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1899

Camille Jenatzy drives his self-designed electric car near Paris, France. He was first person to exceed 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in a car.

IMAGE: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

First Electric Cars

1906, Manhattan, New York City, New York State, USA — Electric cars of the New York Edison Company. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1906

Electric cars of the New York Edison Company line up in Manhattan.

IMAGE: BETTMANN/CORBIS

First Electric Cars

(GERMANY OUT) Berlin street scenes City cleaning with an electric car – 1907 – Vintage property of ullstein bild (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

1907

An electric street sweeper cleans the roadway in Berlin, Germany.

IMAGE: ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES

First Electric Cars

1909 — Electric Vehicles Recharging at a Substation — Image by © Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/CORBIS

1909

Electric vehicles recharge at a power substation.

IMAGE: SCHENECTADY MUSEUM; HALL OF ELECTRICAL HISTORY FOUNDATION/CORBIS

Sales of electric cars peaked in the early 1910s as more and more homes became wired for electricity. In the United States, 38% of cars were electric at this time.

However, the popularity of electric cars cratered as numerous developments — expanded road infrastructure, petroleum discoveries, the invention of the electric starter and the muffler — made gasoline-powered cars a more affordable and practical option.

First Electric Cars

ca. 1910 — Original caption: Post Chaise of the Wife of Pierre Van Cortland. Equipages of Colonial Dames. Series III, Number III. We Have Been Coach Builders Over Sixty Years. Rauch & Lang Electric. Worm Drive. Electric Car Supremacy. The electric offers in its diversified uses, a car of exceptional merit–as the family car it stands supreme. Every member of your family can drive it–no chauffeur needed. It offers all of the best qualities of a gasoline car without any disagreeable features–danger from gasoline–offensive odors of oil–grime, dirt and the difficulties attending the operation. The electric car will do everything a gasoline car does (except tour) with greater ease–cleaner and better. Its upkeep is far below that of the gas car, to say nothing of the depreciation difference. It can be driven over any road over which a gasoline car can be propelled–up any hill on which the wh — Image by © Corbis

c. 1910

An advertisement for an electric car.

IMAGE: CORBIS

Now it is possible for an owner of an electric to install his own charging plant in his stable.

NEW YORK TIMES, C. 1910

First Electric Cars

ca. 1910, Cleveland, Ohio, USA — A Mercury Arc Rectifier Charging Set powers-up an electric car in a garage. — Image by © Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/CORBIS

c. 1910

A Mercury Arc Rectifier Charging Set powers up an electric car in a garage in Cleveland, Ohio.

IMAGE: SCHENECTADY MUSEUM; HALL OF ELECTRICAL HISTORY FOUNDATION/CORBIS

First Electric Cars

ca. 1912 — A young woman uses a hand-cranked battery charger to charge her electric Columbia Mark 68 Victoria automobile. The Pope Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, made the car in 1906 and the charger in 1912. Electric cars enjoyed great success in the early years of automobiles, but were later eclipsed by those powered by internal-combustion gasoline engines, which did not require frequent recharging. — Image by © Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/CORBIS

c. 1912

A woman uses a hand-cranked battery charger to charge her electric Columbia Mark 68 Victoria automobile. The Pope Manufacturing Company made the car in 1906 and the charger in 1912.

IMAGE: SCHENECTADY MUSEUM; HALL OF ELECTRICAL HISTORY FOUNDATION/CORBIS

First Electric Cars

View of the Detroit Electric, an early electric car, as it travels a mountain road from Seattle to Mount Rainier, Washington, circa 1920. From the Cress-Dale Photo Company. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images)

c. 1920

A Detroit Electric car drives on a mountain road between Seattle and Mount Rainier, Washington.

IMAGE: INTERIM ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

East German electric vans of the Deutsche Post in 1953.

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