The long history of Electric Cars


Electric cars are among the fastest-growing type of vehicles in terms of sales in several Western countries. Many consumers still know little about electric cars, and most people see them as a relatively new type of vehicle that has some ways to go before they become common. However, electric cars’ history goes back to the 19th century, as people began to experiment with electricity and mobility. For example, the figure to the left is an electric car from 1896.

Robert Anderson, a British inventor, is often credited with building the first electric carriage built in the 1830s. It is not clear when this exactly happened, but it occurred sometime around 1832-1839. Similar efforts around that time occurred in the Netherlands and Hungary, where there was a lot of interest in developing transport using electricity. This included work by Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of Groningen, Holland, and the Hungarian inventor Ányos Jedlik.

These early vehicles were effectively carriages that could move a short distance on some electric charge and be steered by a large stick-like device. Effectively, many of the first cars were electric, as people experimented with different ways to power them.[1]

The first more practical electric vehicle, which we can call a type of car, occurred in 1842, developed by Thomas Davenport and Robert Anderson. These represented vehicles that could now move through better steering were comparable to some of the early carriage cars around this period. One practical problem was that these cars did not have batteries, which meant they could not go very far. That problem was already solved in 1865, where Gaston Plante from France created the first rechargeable lead-acid batteries.

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