The history of electric cars can be found just about anywhere on the internet with Wikipedia certainly being one of them. Depending on which site you land on, there may be more or less content about the history that happened outside the country in which the site derives. However, if you take the time to read through enough sites, you begin to put a picture together. The inventor of the first electric car is disputed because many were small scale prototypes (we might call them concept cars today) beginning as far back as 1828. However, the first practical production car (note the qualifiers) to be developed is generally attributed to a Locomotive Superintendant in England, Thomas Parker, in 1884 that included his own design of high-capacity rechargeable batteries.
By 1900, electric cars were a staple in the US with more electric cars sold than gasoline cars. In fact, 90% of the taxi’s in New York were electric complete with battery swapping stations to keep them going, if needed. Electric cars were ideal for that application given the short distances they had to travel, and they were clean and quiet. Electric cars for personal use were also prevalent but considered more of a ladies vehicle because of the same reasons in addition to the fact that it wasn’t necessary to crank start them (by the way, the term cranky comes from troublesome car starts) and there were no gears to shift. In fact, Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, refused to drive a Model T instead opting for a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47.
These cars could go 80 miles on a single charge at about 25 mph on less than stellar road conditions. One Detroit Electric range test even reportedly netted 241 miles on single charge. However, electrics peaked in 1912 as a multitude of forces conspired to render them no longer desirable. The electric starter was invented, a suitable infrastructure of fuel stations developed dispensing low cost gasoline, and Henry Ford’s car production reduced gasoline cars to almost half the cost of electrics. The rest is history as they say.
What is interesting about revisiting this early electric car history is the similar scenario we see today. Electric vehicles are again great for tootling around town as Americans only average 30 miles a day on their cars. They are still quiet, clean, and require no transmission. Most are getting at least 80-100 miles on a charge (though they do go quite a bit faster). Tesla has even “reinvented” the battery swapping station (though automated) at several of their supercharger stations. History does have a way of repeating itself. However, one has to ask what innovations would have happened since then had we continued with electric car development especially when you consider the amount of resources thrown at gasoline cars over this time.