The History of Electric Cars


The history of electric cars began a long time ago. Electric cars may be at the cutting edge of car technology today. They be the hippest, hottest thing around right now, but it's not going to their heads, because they've been there before! In fact, they were the first cars, way before anyone ever had the idea of pouring gas into a vehicle.

The story begins in 1835 to be exact, when a man called Thomas Davenport, built a small electric motor railway. A tiny one!

Mr Davenport was an American blacksmith who liked to mess around in his forge inventing things. He was the first person ever to use an electric DC motor to power machinery. When he filed a patent, he named his invention "Improvements in propelling machinery by magnetism and electromagnetism."
davenport  electric motor The Davenport electric motor.

A few years later, a Scotsman, called Robert Davidson, improved on this idea, and succeeded in building an electric vehicle that could go a whopping 4 miles per hour! Then, shortly afterwards, another Scot invented an electric carriage that could be powered by a battery.

Following on from that, the technology really took off and patents were filed for electric trains which would be fuelled by railway tracks which could conduct electricity.

Technological improvements continued at a pace and by the turn of the 20th century, electric cars, trains and trams were commonplace.

When nickel-ion, rechargeable batteries were invented, the electrical entrepreneur and inventor, Thomas Edison, immediately recognised their potential for powering electric cars. This should have been the defining moment in the history of electric cars....but events which would derail the natural course of events were about to unfold...

Photo of an early electric car from the National Museum of American History. Electric cars became fast and efficient and were manufactured by big companies such as Detroit Electric, Baker Electric and Columbia Electric. In fact, even after the arrival of the gas-fuelled car, electric cars, trams and trains continued to be more popular for some considerable time……

....and then the nasty stuff and dirty tricks began and the history of electric cars took a turn for the worse……

Three companies, with a vested interest in wiping out those beautiful, clean, electric cars, got together and formed one big bullying company called National City Lines. The three companies were General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil of California. Now, National City Lines might sound respectable enough, if you didn't know what they did to establish themselves in business.

They bought up many of those beautiful electric train lines which had been built across the U.S. and which were providing a wonderful service…..and they destroyed them. Dismantled them. Why? So General Motors buses could muscle in on that patch and take over the routes with their dirty, noisy, gas-guzzling vehicles. And so our dependence on roads began and the bright, clean promise of the railway-age began to dim.

henry ford

One man who saw his opportunity and seized it was Mr Ford, churning out gas cars on his conveyor belt and convincing folks that his cars were as much part of family life as Mom and apple pie. And we believed him.

In an unseemly rush for modernisation, we abandoned our clean electric transport, ripped up the tram lines in our cities and let the railways fall into disrepair and disuse---and we all started driving individual gas cars.

And so it was that our problems began…..

The irony is that the problems caused by all of these cars was so great that many cities have since reinstated a form of public transport that is non-polluting, quiet, efficient and punctual----electric trams!

So, within two generations, we reverted back to electric public transport, and wherever these trams are, people love them and use them.


Now if only we could achieve the same with cars, we could have cities with air as clean as it was when Mr Henry Ford was a baby in his cradle!



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