Science at Full Speed: The Incredible Years When Electric Cars Were More Than Gasoline | technology

The electric car embodies the cutting edge of today’s automotive industry, but the truth is that the golden age of these cars occurred at the dawn of the last century. At the time, 38% of all cars on the roads in the United States were electric, while gasoline accounted for 22% (the remaining 40% were steam), according to Encyclopedia Britannica. It was expected that electric motor technology would be a winner for the auto industry, but then things went very well.

Famous inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison was convinced that the electric motor was superior. It even launched itself to improve batteries, which is one component that has been tried to improve a lot in the current era. In his efforts, he joined forces with Henry Ford to explore options for manufacturing an electric car with his own mass production method.

At the turn of the 20th century, a third of the vehicles on American roads were electric. In the next ten years, sales of these cars continued to rise, according to the US Department of Energy. New York and other cities, including some European cities such as London, have had a nascent fleet of electric taxis. The urban upper class, at the time, was the only one who could afford them, driving around in electric cars like modern buggies. Technology has also dominated records. In 1899, the first car to exceed 100 kilometers per hour, La Jamais Contente, did so thanks to electricity.

La Jamais Contente The electric car that became the first car to reach 100 kilometers per hour.
La Jamais Contente The electric car that became the first car to reach 100 kilometers per hour.

The electric car grew out of a series of inventions in the second half of the nineteenth century. Rail-guided vehicles were first tried until the French physicist Gaston Planty invented the lead battery. After decades and initial design improvements, what was probably the first electric tricycle circulated in Paris in 1881.

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At first they were little more than electric rickshaws that were driven at slow speeds. But the technology has evolved until it is fully functional for urban use. So much so that in 1908, the American manufacturer Fritchle promoted its Victoria as the only electric car that allowed it to travel 100 miles (161 km) on a single battery charge.

It must be kept in mind that as we entered the 20th century, the horse was still the main form of transportation. The cars were slowly gaining ground. There was steam, sure energy in the trains and factories. But it wasn’t practical, as it can take more than half an hour to start on a cold day. Gasoline models have their own drawbacks. It revved hard, and was driven with gears, which made it even more difficult to drive.

A 1908 advertisement for the Fritchle Victoria, which claimed it was the only electric car of its day with a range of 100 miles (161 km).
A 1908 advertisement for the Fritchle Victoria, which claimed it was the only electric car of its day with a range of 100 miles (161 km).

Electric cars have been great in some ways. They had instant electric start, no crank, didn’t make noise, and didn’t fill the streets with smoke either. In addition, there was no risk of grease smearing and the entire bodywork did not vibrate as it does with combustion engines. By the early 2000s, there were 33,842 electric vehicles registered in the United States. That was the peak of his popularity. In the following years, various circumstances quickly lead them into oblivion.

One doomed aspect of the electric car is the same thing currently slowing its massive adoption: a dearth of charging points. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the birthplace of electricity was the United States. Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, which made it possible for the first time to dream of long-lasting electric lighting in homes. Direct current competed for years with alternating current for Nikola Telsa, spurring business to provide electrical services to society today. But the vast majority of homes, including city buildings, did not have electricity in 1910. There weren’t many places to charge cars.

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Although the enemy of electric cars was most likely a hurricane called the Ford T. It appeared in 1908 and overtook its competitors at that time. Thanks to the assembly line created by its inventor, the price of this car was much lower than that of other combustion vehicles and, of course, that of electric cars.

The mass-produced Ford T ended the first golden age of electric cars.
The mass-produced Ford T ended the first golden age of electric cars.

World War I (1914-1918) also contributed to the supremacy of the combustion engine. Cars and trucks were not useful in combat operations. They didn’t roll in the mud. But the logistics and military administration used it more and more to transport weapons, ammunition, supplies, food and the soldiers themselves. The belligerent nations’ transition to war economies caused automobile manufacturers to turn to producing vehicles for the war effort. These must be internal combustion for practical reasons of displacement. At the end of the war, the automotive industrial machinery was completely oiled for this type of car.

In the mid-1920s, the combustion engine, backed by Ford, won the game over electricity. In 1920 alone, there were already nine million gasoline-powered cars on American roads. However, it sometimes happens that technological development, even if it does not succeed in the diabolical race to conquer consumers, leaves its mark on future products on the market. In this case it happened too. The legacy of the rest of the cars was the electric start. Thanks to this technical innovation, petrol engines no longer need to crank.

The defeat of electric cars was also due to other factors that have long been stumbling blocks to their adoption. They had a low autonomy, between 50-65 km, which is sufficient for urban environments. But in the first decade of the 20th century, American roads began to be paved. Cars venture out of the cities, land that hitherto belonged to the domain of the railroads. Trips to and from places without electricity points are prepared to recharge vehicles.

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All this has changed a lot since then. Today there are quite a few models with more than 450 kilometers of autonomy. Charging point infrastructure has expanded in recent years, and fast, fast charging provides refueling times measured in minutes rather than hours. Greater environmental awareness has also emerged, affecting consumption and other factors, such as restrictions on the combustion engine in downtowns.

The International Energy Agency estimates that in 2021 there will be more than 16 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide. There’s no final lever for widespread electric car use, though: price, one of the reasons electric cars crashed in 1912. With Ford’s production line already in operation, a gasoline-powered car cost $650. The electric sold for $1,750.

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