The Ayrton and Perry Electric Tricycle of 1881

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While Charles Jeantaud was building la automobile in France in 1881, Ayrton and Perry were making similar progress in Britain. However they never met, because they worked in isolation. There was no email, or even the internet to share results. Sometimes we wonder whether this is why real progress was so dramatic. Perhaps we will explore this in a future blog.

More about Ayrton and Perry and Their Project

ayrton and perry

Horst Schultz Replica: Bay: GNU

William Edward Ayrton of London was a lawyer’s son and a mathematician-cum-electricity pioneer. ┬áJohn Perry from Glasgow was more interested in the core of the earth which he controversially believed to be fluid.

Nonetheless, the two unlikely candidates decided to invent an electric vehicle. Ayrton and Perry chose to adapt a tricycle because it was cheap, and needed fewer batteries to propel than a carriage. Their preferred model was by Howe Machine Company of Glasgow.

Their tricycle had two large wheels on the front and a small wheel at the rear. This arrangement created a natural platform for the batteries. There were ten lead-acid batteries in series, providing a 1/2 horsepower, but no pedal back up.

So How Good Was the Electric Tricycle Really?

ayrton and perry

Contemporary Drawing: Louis Poyet: Public Domain

This one was for real. It had a 10 to 25-mile range and a maximum speed of 9 mph, depending on terrain. It was also the first known vehicle with electric lights. Ayrton and Perry controlled speed by connecting and disconnecting individual batteries.

There were no control pedals, only a primitive steering bar. This must have been scary in 1881 with all the uncertainty around them. The original vehicle vanished in the shifting sands of history, probably overshadowed by combustion vehicles.

We are not sure when Horst Schultz set himself the task of recreating the Ayrton and Perry electric tricycle for his private museum. He did a superb job judging by the photos we shared earlier. We are grateful for his contribution to electrical vehicle history, as we explore this in our series.


Charles Jeantaud Builds la Automobile in 1881

Gustave Trouve Pioneers Electric Transport in 1881

Preview Image: Ayrton and Perry Electric Tricycle (Replica)


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I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will not deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time. My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned. Richard Farrell

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