Time Line
1769 Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built a steam driven gun carriage in Paris, it barely moved (2 MPH) and only ran 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

1804 Oliver Evans, finding no clients for the high pressure steam engine he invented, uses it to build an amphibious vehicle, as a dredge. It lumbered over land and paddled upriver. The first self powered traction engine (save Cugnot), dredge, and amphibious vehicle, all in one first attempt.

1807 Francois Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland invented the first known internal combustion engine, running on hydrogen and oxygen. In 1813 he tried to build a vehicle on the concept (without apparent success).

1825 Goldsworthy Gurney, inventor of Bude Light, builds a few workable (but short lived) steam road carriages in England.

1830 The dawn of practical steam powered mass-transit trains and boats.

1831 Joseph Henry, a math professor in Albany NY, invented the electric motor in his quest to understand electro-magnetics. It resembled an electric teeter-totter.

1834 Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith in Vermont, read about Henry's motor in Silliman's Journal. He played with the concept and made it spin. Davenport saw his invention as a replacement for steam to drive locomotives, and used it to make a small model electric rail car. Several Europeans designed similar prototype motors and dynamos (i.e. Hippolyte Pixii 1832).

1860 Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir, of Belgium, patented a two-stroke gasoline engine.
By this time most mills and factories had stationary steam plants that powered the machinery through networks of belts, pullies, and shafts. the early gas engines were built as a substitute for steam

1862 Lenoir put his engine on a vehicle, said to run 1 1/2 MPH. He sells several hundred engines but no cars.

1869 Zenobe-Theophile Gramme patented the first practical Dynamo, Paris.

1872 George B. Brayton patented the Brayton Ready Motor. Made for stationary applications. It burned a gas, mixed with compressed air, on a hot mantle-like grid, in the cylinder.

1876 Nikolaus August Otto Patented the four-stroke engine in Germany. The engine was made to run by his engineer Gottlieb Daimler.

The Centennial Exhibition was held in Philadelphia. Anchored by an enormous 1,600 HP Corliss steam engine (destined for the Pullman factory) the exhibit celebrated of the steam age and the American recovery post Civil War.  Many were inspired by what they saw. Col. Pope saw a British bicycle and within 15 years was the worlds largest bicycle maker. George Selden saw the Brayton engine and begin to think how it might be used to pull a carriage. There were electrical displays but, outside of telegraphy, arc lights, and electroplating (electricity's first known application), electricity remained a curiosity.

1877 George Selden filed the first US patent for a (two stroke) liquid hydrocarbon fueled carriage in the US (granted 1895 after intentional delays to avoid a lapse of patent before demand arose).

1880 January 17th: Edison was awarded a (carbon filament vacuum tube) light bulb patent. The incandescent light became popular over the next decade as the lamps became more affordable. The commercial generation and distribution of electricity for lighting and light rail created the infrastructure for the electric car. Edison had to fight for clear patents and eventually (1892) the strongest plaintiffs were merged to become General Electric.

1881 Charles Jeantaud, with help from Camille Faure (inventor of the pasted plate battery), builds an electric vehicle in France. The car is made from a Tilbury style buggy with a Gramme motor and the (Faure's patent) Fulmen battery. Over the next twelve years he continued to modify this same platform installing a British motor in 1887, and used a Swiss motor with a tubular plate battery built by Tonate Thommasi in 1893.

1882 Elwell-Parker Ltd. formed in October at Wolverhampton England to make the Parker designed high capacity rechargeable batteries. They soon expanded into dynamos, motors, and controllers. Thomas Parker the engineer and Paul Bedford Elwell the finance.

W. Ayrton & J. Perry of England build an electric tricycle with two large wheels at the rear, with the right one driven, and a small wheel up front (the first electric wheelchair), with electric lights.

1884 Andrew L. Riker drops out after the first year of college and experimented with attaching an electric motor and battery (that he built) on a Coventry bicycle in his parent's basement.

Thomas Parker built his first electric vehicle (England).

1885 Gottlieb Daimler (with Wilhelm Maybach) and Carl Benz built gasoline vehicles. Daimler and Benz merged in 1926 but the two men never met. The Mercedes brand came from a daughter of early Daimler distributor Emil Jellinek.

1886 N. S. Possons builds an electric tricycle for the Brush Electric Co. of Cleveland, OH. It has an electric headlight and features the Brush Co.'s rechargeable battery.

1888 Immisch & Company of London built a dogcart, four passengers dos-a-dos, full elliptical springs front and rear. Belt drive to the right rear wheel with an Immisch motor bolted to the underside of the carriage. The car had central pivot steering by means of a spur and crown gear.

1889 M. M.  Slattery of the Fort Wayne Jenny Electric Light Co. built an electric tricycle with a shunt wound motor.
1890 William Morrison built the first US four wheeled electric vehicle, in Des Moines IA, to demonstrate his lead battery.
1891 John Lambert makes a gasoline tricycle in Ohio City OH, he found no customers.

1893 The "World's Colombian Exposition" opened in Chicago introducing the age of electricity to millions. Morrison's car was there and impressed Albert Pope, and most of the other people who made early cars, leading to the proliferation of electric cars in the late 1890's and early 1900's.

The Duryea brothers built their first gasoline car. It had a top speed of 12 mph.

Alexander E. Brown, with capital and administration by Fayette and Harvey Brown, established Elwell-Parker Electric Co. in America as an adjunct to Brown Hoisting Machine Co. 7-1/2% ownership was retained by ECC Ltd.

May to August was a worldwide bank panic leading to recession. 503 US banks failed.

1894 Henry B. Morris and Pedro Salom Built the Electrobat, it ran at 15 mph. Later they redesign the Electrobat (with some help from Walter Baker's axles and bearings) first as a racecar then as an electric hansom cab. They built about a dozen cabs before being purchased by Isaac L. Rice of Electric Storage Battery. Combined with Pope (Columbia) and Riker, these companies were the foundation for the Electric Vehicle Company and the "lead cab" syndicate (1899).

Louis Antoine Krieger started making electric horseless carriages in Paris.

1895 William C. Anderson moved his carriage company to Detroit with financing from his new partners, lumber baron William M. Locke and railroad equipment wholesaler William A. Pungs. Just ask for Bill.
America's first auto race was held in Chicago, on Thanksgiving Day following a snowstorm. Charles Duryea fought the dreadful road conditions over the 54.36 miles to emerge as the victor, averaging 7-1/2 mph, easily beating the only other finisher, a Benz Velo. The Morrison car was there but the extra rolling resistance, plowing through the snow, caused the motor to overheat, even though the air was freezing. An Electrobat II was entered but could not manage the distance without several battery changes, so it just made a demonstration run. Both electrics won prizes.

1896 Thomas Parker built an electric bus, with hydraulic brakes, featuring his series/parallel motor control system.

September 7, 8, & 11, At the Rhode Island State Fair (Narragansett Park), in a series of five-mile heats, a Riker (best average 26 MPH) and a Morris & Salom Electrobat II (best average 26.2 MPH) beat four of the third generation gasoline Duryeas (best average 22 mph).

Hiram Percy Maxim (son of Sir Hiram S. Maxim) was hired (1895) by Hayden Eames to design the Columbia Electric Buggy for the Pope Manufacturing Co, the dominant maker of bicycles. The first car Maxim built was a gasoline tricylce, but Albert A. Pope was not impressed. He said, "You'll never get people to sit over an explosion". In April 1896 they introduced the first practical, commercially available, electric car. Built with bicycle technologies of steel tube, ball bearings, and wire wheels. The car was the first to use the Maxim designed worm and sector steering gear. Top speed was about 12 mph, the weakness then as always was the battery. Maxim believed that the internal combustion engine was the future. Pope favored electrics. By the turn of the century (as the Electric Vehicle Company) they had become the leading manufacturer of electric vehicles when they produced as many as a thousand taxis (based on the Electrobat and Riker cabs). After the failure of that enterprise, the company was to lead the Selden patent suit against Ford. They went bankrupt in 1907, and lost the suit in 1911. The patent lapsed in 1912.

American Electric Vehicle Co. Chicago IL. Incorporated early 1896 by (MIT grad in electrical & mechanical engineering) Clinton Edgar Woods, with capitol stock of $250,000 they had a car on the streets by May. The car featured Baker designed ball bearing axels, solid rubber tires, and twin motor chain drive at the rear wheels. By 1897 C. E. Woods was involved in a new company under his own name. American became Waverley.

The Belgian gun maker Pieper started making electric cars in 1889; in 1896 the son Henri made the "Auto-Mixte" a parallel hybrid with one mode at a time.

1897 Elwell-Parker started marketing series wound, low (36-72) voltage (industrial motors ran at 110/220 volts, traction motors for streetcars ran at 200-600 volts), high amperage, direct current motors for battery-powered transportation. Designed by M. S. Towson at the suggestion of Theodore Willard (of Willard Battery). Clients included Babcock, Baker, Columbia, Johnson-Hewitt, Strong & Rogers, Waverly, and Woods.

Justus B. Entz, chief engineer at Electric Storage Battery (Philadelphia), designed a gas car, with electric drive transmission, built as the proto-type Columbia Mk IX by the Pope Manufacturing Company. Hiram P. Maxim unintentionally destroyed this car on its test run. This design was eventually made as the Owen Magnetic.

1898 Alexander Winton started selling the first commercially successful gasoline cars in the US. By he years end he had sold 22 cars

The Stanley Brothers Built their first proto-type steam car. The following year they started production.

The Baker Motor Vehicle Co. was established by Walter C. Baker and Frank White. They started making a small (2 pass.) open car; Thomas Edison (who did not drive) bought the second one.

1899 Camille Jenatzy, in a modified Jeantaud car breaks 65 MPH (April 29) in his torpedo-bodied car "Jamais Contente". in 1901 he made some gas electric hybrids.

Ferdinand Porsche designs his first car, an electric, with a hub-motor at each driving wheel; the racing version was capable of 35 MPH.     

Charles "Mile-A-Minute" Murphy rides his bicycle over 60 MPH, with a little help from the Long Island Railroad's draft.

1900 Rudolf Diesel introduced his new engine, running on peanut oil, at the Paris exposition. On display were 176 gasoline, 40 electric, and 21 steam cars. The majority of electrics on display were from the U S. Bixio electric cabs were popular with the affluent attendees.

Andrew Riker won a speed contest at 24.29 mph over fifty miles in Babylon New York.

1901 The Pan-American Exposition was held from May 1st to November 1st. The fair was lit by the power of Niagra Falls and was centered on a tower of lights. President McKinley was shot, then driven to the hospital in a Riker electric ambulance. Neither survived the year.

Edison patented a nickel-iron battery, it needed improvement.

Peter Cooper Hewitt patented the mercury vapor rectifier, making the conversion of alternating current, to the direct current required to charge batteries, cheaper and more efficient.

1902 The Studebaker Brothers build their first 20 electric cars.

Porsche made a hybrid version of the Lohner electric.

The Columbus Buggy Co. started making electric cars. Personnel included Clinton Dewitt and Harvey S. Firestone, Eddie Rickenbacker, Lee Frayer, and George M. Bacon.

May 31
st the Baker Torpedo is the first car to have an aerodynamic body that enclosed both driver and platform. Under the torpedo shaped body was tandem seating for a driver steering in the front, and an electrician behind switching the battery as the car gained speed. It had a 12 H.P. Elwell-Parker motor. In a speed test the car hit 80 mph then crashed killing two spectators. Although retired from public speed contests, the car was said to have gone 120 mph.

1903 One could buy a gas Oldsmobile for $650, a Stanley steam Runabout for $650, a Cadillac for $750, the first model A Ford for $750, a Baker electric Runabout for $850, the Columbia Mk III was still available for $1,500, or a Buffalo electric Stanhope for $1,650.

Krieger teamed with Brasier (of same ownership) to make a Parisian hybrid.

1904 The US finally out-produced France to become the world's largest automobile maker, a record held until 1980 when the torch was passed to Japan.

1905 Rauch & Lang of Cleveland was a leading maker of luxury carriages. They chose electric propulsion for their luxury horseless coach. This was likely the tipping point for Anderson finding the new money to start making the Detroit Electric.

1906 William C. Anderson recapitalized the Anderson Carriage Company to make cars under the Detroit Electric brand. George M. Bacon from the Columbus Buggy Company was lead design engineer. Bacon chose the Elwell-Parker motor/controller. It remains to date as the most efficient motor/control system for battery electric propulsion.

A Stanley steam car with a torpedo body set a new land speed record of 127 MPH. Electric car builders give up the speed tests.

1907 Anderson delivered an electric Coupe to a Miss Grove of Chicago, shipped September 30, 1907. By the end of 1907 five Victorias and Five Coupes had been shipped. The early cars were the model A or B Victoria, model C two-passenger Coupe, and model D four-passenger Brougham. The Coupe and Brougham were fully enclosed. The Brougham had the distinctive curved glass front quarter windows, and carriage style body; this was to be the classic signature design. Most earlier Broughams followed horse drawn design and put the driver high and outside, as if they still had to look over the horse. From the start Detroit Electrics were built with the driver on the inside. The Coupes were similar to the Rauch & Lang or Baker, but those cars had straighter lines, and the suicide doors that were characteristic of the Cleveland coachbuilders. Anderson's big seller at this time was a light one-seat, one-horse buggy that sold for twenty-five dollars.

1908 Edison finally introduced his improved nickel-Iron battery.

In October Henry Ford started production of the model T, marking the beginning of the end for many low price US car builders, however it was no world-beater at first. The same year he bought his first Detroit Electric, a model C coupe. It was for his wife Clara and had a special child seat for Edsel.

1909 Anderson bought the controlling 92-1/2% interest in Elwell-Parker Electric Co. from Brown Hoist for about half a million dollars, Towson negotiated the other 7-1/2% from ECC Ltd. thereby securing exclusive use of their designs and patents for an efficient DC motor and control system.

1910 Edison chose Detroit Electric (and Bailey) to introduce his improved "nickel-steel" alkaline battery (patent 1901, improved 1908). It was not too popular due to its higher initial cost (an additional $600 or more). And a charging inefficiency of 30% (it's like a third of the gasoline runs down the gutter when you fill your tank). The first Edison battery was installed February 16 in an all red model L shipped to Denver. In 1911 as many as half the cars were shipped with the Edison battery, by 1912 demand was tapering off.

The recently formed Electric Vehicle Association of America standardized the EV charging plug with one type in two sizes.

The Ford family bought their second Detroit Electric. According to the shipping ledger it was sold to Edsel Ford. It was a model D Brougham shipped March 8th 1910 with a blue leather interior, a silk satin headliner, and an all blue exterior. The battery was built at the Anderson factory with Willard Plates.

1911 Anderson Carriage Co. became Anderson Electric Car Co. Car model designations go from letters to numbers. This was a year of great transition for the company. A staggering 23 models were offered, as most of the body types were available with any of the three chain drive systems, or the new shaft drive system.

1912 Charles Franklin Kettering invented the electric starter at his Dayton Electric Co. (DELCO) reducing the advantage of electric cars over gas.

This was the model year where Anderson got its act together and started producing the classic broughams that would be their best sellers, with little change, until 1919. The cars featured comfortable weather tight cabins, quiet, dependable, shaft drive, and fully skirted fenders that dramatically reduced the problem of water, mud, and stones, thrown up by the wheels.

1913 Ford (who was beginning to lose market share) started making the model T on the first modern assembly line. The lower cost made the motorcar available to many more Americans and put most other low price car companies out of business.

1914 John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought a Detroit Electric model 46 Roadster for his wife Abbie.         

Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the electrical genius at General Electric, bought a model 48 Detroit Electric Brougham (blue/blue).

Ford started paying "loyal" workers five dollars a day. He bought a third Detroit Electric (model 47) for Clara that they never sell.

The Milburn Wagon Co. started making a lighter and cheaper electric, giving a significant challenge to Detroit Electric's sales leadership. During the years that Milburn made electrics they produced about 3,400 cars, while Anderson/Detroit shipped 6,672.    

1915 The Detroit Electric is standardized with heavy chassis (type A), and light chassis (Type B) versions, both on a 100 inch wheel base. The heavy chassis cars were usually the large broughams (front, rear, or duplex drive), with some smaller broughams, roadsters, and cabriolets. The type "B" light chassis cars were the less expensive, ladder frame, four-passenger small Broughams and Coupes, clearly designed to compete with the recently introduced, lower priced, Milburn Light Electric.

Edison got a fifteen million dollar Navy contract for his battery in March of 1915, making them unavailable for the 1916 model year. The last Detroit shipped with an Edison Battery was on April 5
th 1915.

Baker Electric merged with Rauch & Lang (German for "smoke & long") to resolve patent disputes. The cars and management of Owen Magnetic, plus capitol and management from General Electric were folded in.

1918 The remaining electric car companies expanded into a diminishing market, with the double impact of World War I, and the influenza pandemic. Sales at Detroit Electric fell from 1,139 units in 1918 to 191 in 1920.

1919 In the wartime economy the bodyworks, electrical component manufacturing, Material handling vehicles, and automobile making interests, became acutely diverged. The various parts of Baker R & L, and Detroit Electric, split back into these segments. The other remaining volume producer was Milburn, they were never vertically integrated in the first place.
1920 W. C. Anderson, A. C. Downing, J. D. Wilson, & Frank Price continue the Detroit Electric car business from the Hupp plant at 6561 Mt. Elliot. Bodies were from old stock or were the new faux-radiator square-bodies from H&M Body in Racine WI. The main factory became part of Murray Body.

The Rauch & Lang brand was purchased by Stevens-Duyea, and they made electric taxies in Chicopee Falls MA until 1930. The coach building and material handling truck businesses stayed in Cleveland under the Baker-Raulang Company. Only two companies made electric passenger cars in any number for the next few years, Detroit and Milburn.

1923 Milburn gave up and sold to their main body client General Motors.

1926 It is likely that no entirely new Detroit Electrics were produced after mid-year.

1929 W. C. Anderson, seventy-five and in failing health, sold the company. The last Detroit Electric under Anderson was shipped 7-11-29.

1930 Car company liquidater Alfred O. Dunk purchased Detroit Electric and continued limited production under the same name. Their principal business was in turning earlier large broughams into model 98's and light chassis 4-passenger broughams into model 97's, they also made "new" model 99A's with a Willys body. The last Dunk car was shipped November 17th. 1932.

In Chicopee Falls the last Rauch & Langs are made, a trio of Owen style hybrids.

1933 Dunk's company was liquidated. Dunk employee Alfred F. Renz got the Detroit Electric related assets and continued limited production of cars as The Detroit Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Company (registered October 16th, 1933). From remaining stock, or with a Dodge coupe body, Renz made another 15 "new" cars, the last of which was shipped 2-23-39.

1941 W.W.II puts a stop to personal vehicle manufacturing so Renz sold the metallic assets as scrap for the war effort, then retired Detroit Electric as the most successful electric car company in the twentieth century producing 12,350-13,000 pleasure cars and 535 trucks.

After the war the automobile boom was all gas, the electric vehicle was relegated to public transportation and specialty niches such as vehicles on the factory floor, and city delivery routes. From the 1960's forward many individuals and companies have made prototype cars, conversions of gas cars, and small production runs of electric cars. But so far the car of the future remains a car of the past.