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My Report

Page history last edited by Chad Conway 15 years, 5 months ago

My Report on the Electric Vehicle from 1834 to 1920


From their inception, electric vehicles have shown great promise. However, they have struggled with technological constraints. An electric vehicle is any form of human transport that relies on the propulsion of a motor and electricity used from a storage device. The first rudimentary electric vehicle began to appear in the 1830s. Real progress towards an operational electric automobile began to take shape in 1880s. Early electric vehicles offered many advantages over the other methods of transportation of the time. In the early 1890s, electric automobiles operated better and were noted for being cleaner than the newly invented internal combustion automobile. The electric vehicle had a strong beginning that fed off the improvements in electricity, however due to technical constraints, rapid advancements in internal combustion technology, and market forces, interest in electric vehicles rapidly declined after 1915.


The 1820s and 1830s marked an explosion of preliminary knowledge of electricity. During this era there were many experiments that defined the way that electricity works. One of the first important discoveries was observed in 1820 by Hans Christian Oersted. He displayed the relationship between electricity and magnetism, through an electrical current affecting a compass needle.1 In the same year, Marie Ampere had a breakthrough making an electromagnet. The experiment showed that sending current through a coiled wire made a magnet. In 1821, both of the previous experiments with electromagnetism resulted in the invention of the electric motor. After hearing about the discovery of electromagnetism, Georg Simon Ohm began an experiment that proved to be one of the most important discoveries in electrical history. In 1826, he was able to define a law for potential, current, and circuit resistance.2 This law which was later named Ohm's Law, helped to define the necessary size of wires in any electrical device. In 1831, Michael Faraday continued the string of discoveries, by introducing electromagnetic induction. Electromagnetic induction was the generation of electricity through a wire when an electromagnet spun in between other magnets. This experiment led to the electric generator, transformer, and an improved electric motor which. Together these discoveries began a new generation of transportation.3

Thomas Davenport, Robert Davidson, and Charles Page are three men who are often credited utilizing the new knowledge of electricity to build electric vehicles. Thomas Davenport a blacksmith from Brandon, Vermont was one of the first people to apply this new information to transportation. Although little is known of Davenport's vehicle it is recorded as the first carriage to be propelled by an electric motor and batteries. Davenport built the motor himself and used nonchargeable batteries. In 1838, Robert Davidson of Scotland installed batteries and an electric motor in a small carriage that ran indoors on a wood–plank floor. Charles Page was another electric vehicle inventor. Page built a twenty one foot long, ten and a half ton vehicle that ran on rails in 1851.4 None of these attempts were successful or practical. However, they show that by the middle of the eighteenth century people were giving thought to using electricity to propel vehicles.


During the 1870s and 1880s there was period of steady improvement in the knowledge and application of electricity. The availability of steam engines to run generators allowed growing numbers of companies to experiment with electricity. Many manufacturers switched over to electrically driven machines with a single coal fired generator due to the efficiency and centralized pollution(exhaust). As more people became familiar with the new technology, the individual electric components became more powerful and reliable. In 1878, The Edison Light Company was founded. A year later, Edison displayed his incandescent light bulb in Menlo Park at a public exhibit. After trying thousands of materials to make a filament, Edison finally discovered that a carbon filament worked and provided the best combination of bright light and reliability. Also during 1879, the first commercial electricity station opened in San Francisco. However, it was not until 1882 when Thomas Edison introduced an electricity station to Pearl street in New York City, that people in America began to accept electricity as a viable technology. During the same year, using an Edison generator, a hydroelectric system was installed in a Wisconsin paper mill to power 250 incandescent lights. These two installations of electricity started a boom of installations throughout America. Ultimately the availability of electricity spurred many new inventions that were powered by electricity including electric vehicles.


Another key component in the development of electric vehicles was the discovery and refining of batteries. Gaston Plante and Alessandro Volta are credited as the pioneers of batteries. In 1800, Volta discovered that the proper combination of chemicals allowed the release of electricity. In 1859, Plante, a French chemist, designed the first rechargeable battery. This was a huge advance because because it made using batteries more affordable and in so doing made electricity more widely available. In 1878, Camille Faure, a French Engineer, realized that central electrical production stations could become more efficient by charging batteries during the late night and mid day from excess energy, not used when all the lights in buildings and homes are turned off. In 1880, Faure patented an improved lead acid battery that he found worked best in power stations. This battery consisted of lead plates and was filled with sulfuric acid. Faure soon discovered that his new batteries were well suited to power the new electric vehicles that were being developed.5 In the 1890s Thomas Edison began to experiment with two new types of batteries. Edison attempted to develop batteries based on Waldemar Jungner of Sweden's discovery that a solution of nickel and cadmium produced electricity.6 However, Edison found that cadmium was not available in large enough quantities to make make the batteries viable. Edison also experimented with nickel and iron. He was never able to get his nickel and iron batteries to meet his expectations or the hype that he used to sell their advantages. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, as batteries began to be used for temporary lighting systems, electric construction equipment, and trolleys, more refinements were made in battery technology.


With all of the important components of electric vehicles becoming available developments quickly advanced. In 1888, Magnus Volk of England created the first viable electric tricycle. Although only capable of 4 mile per hour and a six hour running time per charge, the vehicle showed that an electric automobile could be a practical alternative to horse drawn transportation. Recognizing these events and gains was William Morrison. Morrison, converted a wagon into an electric carriage. The carriage contained a four horsepower motor that he had rebuilt and twenty four cell battery that weighing seven hundred and sixty eight pounds. This vehicle was extensively tested, and had a number of notable attributes. Some of its accomplishments included that it could comfortably carry six people , run for thirteen hours, and according to Michael Schiffer, the author of Taking Charge, achieved “a breath taking speed of fourteen miles per hour.”7 In 1892, Morrison sold his vehicle to the American Battery Company of Chicago to help advertise the companies batteries. This is recorded as the first sale of an electric vehicle. In 1893, at the World's Columbian Exposition the feature American vehicle was Morrison's electric carriage. After observing Morrison's success with the electric vehicle many other companies entered the rising market.


In 1890s, there were four main American companies manufacturing electric vehicles. These companies included the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, Riker Electric Motor Company, Pope Manufacturing Company, and Baker Motor Vehicle Company. After his success with his first electric vehicle, William Morrison became partners with Pedro Salom, a battery chemist. Together, Morrison and Salom formed the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company. Between 1894 and 1896, the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company built four models called Electrobats. Each vehicle catered to a different market. The first model was designed to be a city vehicle. In tests it was able to travel several hundred miles around the city of Philadelphia without breaking down. In 1895, Electrobat II was built to compete in races. The car had a top speed of twenty miles per hour, and could travel twenty to thirty miles on a charge. In 1896, two experimental Electrobats were built to test the new technologies of steel tubing and enhanced batteries. Neither of these vehicles preformed as well as the Electrobat II. In 1896, Andrew Laurence Riker formed the Riker Electric Motor Company. The most notable design of Riker's was his Brougham, an expensive luxurious closed coach vehicle that was made to have a chauffeur drive on the outside of the vehicle. The car had a top speed of fourteen miles per hour and could travel twenty five to thirty miles per charge. The vehicle was marketed as the peak of luxury and could only be afforded by the wealthy. 8 In 1896, Albert Pope, the wealthy owner of Pope Manufacturing Company, created a new subsidiary called the Columbia Electric Vehicle Company. In 1897, Pope's company unveiled the Columbia Electric Phaeton, Mark III. The notable advances of the Phaeton were four forward speeds and a single reverse speed. Additionally, the vehicle could achieved thirty miles per charge, and it was the first electric automobile to be produced in large numbers. In the early 1900s, The best electric cars were built by Baker Motor Vehicle Company. In 1902, Baker Motor Vehicle Company of Cleveland built America's first aerodynamic vehicle. The car was called the Road Torpedo, weighing 3000 pounds and had a wood frame with a cloth covering. The first test of this vehicle was in a street race on Staten Island in New York. The car achieved it goals, breaking the speed record of seventy miles per hour as well as proving that by reducing wind and mechanical friction an electric vehicle could achieve high speeds with low horsepower.9 Baker created many automobiles for the public using his knowledge from designing the Road Torpedo. Several designs achieved the high speeds of forty miles per hour, and distances of over two hundred miles per charge with the Edison nickel-iron batteries. In order to sell these models electric vehicle companies used several advertising strategies.10


Electric vehicle manufacturers created interest in their product by creating excitement, racing, advertising in magazines to specific markets, and automobile shows. The companies created a carnival atmospheres when they had new advances. When The Columbia Electric Vehicle Company introduced its first electric Phaeton, anyone interested was able to drive the vehicle. In 1896, Riker Electric Motor Company and Electric Carriage and Wagon Company gained public interest through racing. There were 5,000 spectators at the Providence horseless carriage race in which Riker took first place and the Electrobat five take second. In 1901, Riker continued racing when he drove his newly designed Electromobile along Coney Island Boulevard in Brooklyn, New York. The Electromobile set the record for the fastest mile at one minute and three seconds. Baker Motor Vehicle Company also used racing as its advertising. By the end of 1902, Baker and the Road Torpedo held all electric racing records. The third type of advertising was automobile shows. These shows advertised many companies at once which gave the buyer an opportunity to look at models side by side. The most famous of these shows of electric automobiles was the Electric Pleasure Car Salon in 1913 held at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. There were 10,000 invitations sent to wealthy people. The show featured twenty nine vehicles from nine different companies. Finally, manufacturers advertised to specific groups in magazines. advertising to specific groups was through different magazines was popular. Women were reached through magazines like the Ladies Home Journal, Life, and McClure's Magazine. Men were targeted through The Motor World and Horseless Age Magazines.


The extravagant style and the ease of use that the electric vehicle accomplished, made it the only choice for wealthy women and a second choice for wealthy men. The electric vehicles had many attractive features. First, it was the most comfortable ride due to the electric automobile's full suspensions and thick rubber tires. In addition, they were clean and reliable, with no exhaust, no oil or oil. The cars were easy to use with a switch to turn the vehicle on, a steering wheel and a single lever that determined the speed. Special features that only electrics came with included fully enclosed seating, clocks, and reading lights. In 1914, Clara Ford, the wife of the famous car manufacturer, had her own personal Detriot Electric.11 The men that drove electrics were wealthy men that drove more than one car. The electric was their second or third vehicle. These men used the electric car to drive through snow or when going out to the theater. Horseless and gasoline automobiles often became stuck in snow. Not only was the electric car the first to be introduced with four wheel drive, but even a regular electric automobile could drive through snow due to its high amount of low end torque and strength at a slow speeds.


As the gasoline car improved and a new interest materialized the electric was triggered into a rapid domino effect of decline. Although the gasoline automobile had been in America since 1895, it was not a threat to electric vehicles until Henry Ford began to mass produce the reliable and inexpensive Model T. Until this point gasoline vehicles were too expensive and unreliable. For this reason there was no advantage to buying gasoline cars. However, in 1910 when Ford moved manufacturing to his new Highland Park, Michigan Plant the Electric Car was sentenced to decline. The Model T was reliable, inexpensive enough for the average family to own, and easy to drive. In addition, new features like electric starters and head lights made the Model T and other gasoline vehicles user friendly. The improved gasoline propelled vehicles started the touring craze that spread throughout Americans.


Touring was a new pass time and became the catalyst to the gasoline car companies. People loved the idea of getting in a car and traveling freely. They did not have to think about were they were going as long as they could find their way back. The cars could travel much faster than trains and were not restricted by rails or the towns people lived in. Also the car was easily replenished with fuel. Tanks of gasoline were sold at all general stores and fueling stations began to be built. As the vehicles dropped in price the option of owning a vehicle became open to more Americans. This resulted in the larger production and ever lower prices. Gasoline car companies were able to not only focus on the inexpensive mass produced models, but touring models that catered to the rich. These new designs had enclosed coaches, reading lights, and lacquer finishes. This greatly decreased the electric vehicles buyers market.


The masses were completely sold on the touring theme. They would not settle for a car that could not go fast, without also going far, and having little down time to replenish the cars fuel. The electric car could either go fast or far. The average top speed for 1910 of an electric vehicle was twenty to twenty five miles per hour still geared towards city speeds. However to maximize the distance, the car could travel the car had to be driven at ten to fifteen miles per hour. In addition, charging was incredibly grueling taking six to ten hours per charge. Although Thomas Edison had devised a way to speed charging up, there were not enough stations across the country that had the systems able to deliver the new charge. In addition, batteries were expensive and made producing a inexpensive electric car cheap enough for even the working class to buy was impossible.


From this point forward the electric vehicle was no longer respected as a real automobile. After 1902, the gasoline racers began to be reliable enough to race for long distances with quick refueling along the way. This took electrics out of the racing theme which began the decline of respect when automobile aficionados started to speak out about them in the magazines. These statements covered over those said by American women who were the only group to contentiously support the electric vehicle. However, at the start of women's rights movement women began to drive gasoline cars. This was the final string that was holding the electric vehicle market alive. The electric automobile companies could no longer justify the cost of sending cars to automobile shows which resulted in a widespread belief that the electric car was no longer a real option of transportation. Finally, at the start of the 1920s the American economy declined and caused less spending on vehicles which caused electric car companies to discontinue operation.


The electric car had an astounding early start in the market for horseless carriages. From the first electric vehicle that was introduction in 1834 with only a small motor, a battery, and a one speed controller, the concept peeked the interest of many engineers and scientists. Steady improvements appeared in its first eighty six years proved to be incredible advances in technologies. However, electric cars were ultimately not accepted by all Americans because of battery constraints, the rapid improvements of the gasoline automobile, and the rising popularity of touring with vehicles.

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