The History of Electric Vehicles – 19th Century

This is the first part of a three-parter on the history of EVs across the last 200 years or so. It comes from a Lunch & Learn presentation I did at work recently. I wanted to make a bit more visually pleasing, and break down the content into smaller sections.

Here’s the first part – the dawn of electric motors, batteries, and the fledging automotive industry in the 19th Century.

At this time, EVs were actually the market leaders!


Anyos Jedlik

Hungarian Anyos Jedlik reportedly invented the first type of electric motor which was used in EVs in 1828, and built a model car powered by it.

However, he did not reveal this until years later, and as such, his design did not influence other engineers.


Thomas Davenport

Thomas Davenport a blacksmith from Vermont, produced a DC electric motor, and used it to power a small locomotive.

He later built an electric car. He built it with his wife Emily. An interesting side note is that the motor was insulated by strips of her wedding dress!

After repeated attempts, Thomas eventually obtained a patent for his invention in 1837. He was unable to make much headway with his invention, with other people’s motors being more widely used, and often providing superior output and torque. Unfortunately, he died penniless at 48. His motor is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in New York.


Robert Anderson

The first full size electric car, was built by by Scottish engineer Robert Anderson.

It is widely cited to be between 1832 and 1839. He experimented with electric motors for many years.


Gaston Planté

French physicist Gaston Planté, invents the rechargeable lead-acid battery.

Later it was refined by Camille Alphonse Faure, vastly increasing capacity and helping to make it manufacturable on a large scale. The energy density of this battery made rechargeable EVs realistic for the first time.

This type of battery is still widely used today, in all cars, caravans, boats and for many other utilities. It’s even still used in EVs for the 12V system (but not the traction battery).


Thomas Parker’s Electric Car

Thomas Parker,  invents a small scale production electric car.

He later worked on electrifying the London Underground, and invented smokeless coal called Coalite.


Morrison Electric

William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, originally from Scotland, builds the first successful electric car in the United States. 


The first electric taxis hit the streets of London and New York City.

Yes, the year is correct.


Ferdinand Porsche built his first car, the P1.

It came in electric drivetrain only.

The car went missing for over 100 years, but was found recently in Austria in 2014. The batteries were no longer present, but the motor still works.

It’s now at the Porsche Museum in stutgart.


Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid

Ferdinand Porsche designs the first hybrid vehicle, the Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid.

It competes in a British Automobile club endurance competition for electric cars.

In 1899-1900, EVs outsell all other vehicles in the USA.

Later, he adapts the car to become what we’d now call a series-hybrid, or range-extended EV, with a petrol generator used to recharge the battery.

Jacob Lohner was founder of Austrian coachbuilding company Lohner-Werke


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