America continued its romance with electric vehicles, after William Morrison bowed out to focus on making batteries in 1891. Electric cars remained popular because they were quiet, easy to drive, and perfect for short shopping trips. Gasoline engines on the other hand were noisy, smelly and needed considerable strength to crank into life. Moreover steam cars could take an hour to bring to a boil. Thus electric car history continued unabated, until Henry Ford swept all aside with his popular Model T, and grasped the middle class market.
Henry Ford’s Role in Electric Car History
Henry Ford considered electric cars carefully in the period up to 1914, while it may come as a surprise. In fact, he was best mates with Thomas Edison.
They owned adjacent houses, enjoyed camping together, and gave each other extravagant presents. In 1903, they cooperated on a project to electrify four petrol limos, using Edison’s new-fangled nickel-iron batteries. Thomas Edison was dean keen on electrified transport during the exciting years of early electric car history.
Hemmings Daily, a classic car news source quotes him saying, ‘electricity is the thing. There are no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse. There is not that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine. Moreover there is no water circulating system to get out of order – no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.’ This sounds familiar to the global warming debate today!
The End and Beginning of the Electric Car Dream
On January 11, 1914, the New York Times reported Henry Ford saying, ‘within a year, I hope, we shall begin the manufacture of an electric automobile. The fact is that Mr. Edison and I have been working for some years on an electric automobile, which would be cheap and practicable.’
This never happened. Henry Ford diverted all his energy into refining the Model T gasoline version he launched in 1908. One urban legend claims a battery-powered Model T overturned on a camping trip. Perhaps the batteries were top-heavy. Whatever it was, we had to wait almost a century for the next electric Ford.
Henry abandoned his electric car project and churned out gasoline autos instead. Other visionaries continued the struggle for a while. A century later, we are reinventing the dreams of the early days of electric car history. We are left wondering what else might have happened, if Henry and Thomas had not gone on that camping trip together.
Preview Image: Early Heroes of Automotive Transport