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Thomas Edison's 1912 Electric Car Gets A Chance To Shine

 
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1912 Edison Electric Car. Image: Sunday Express

1912 Edison Electric Car. Image: Sunday Express

American-born Thomas Edison might be best known for coming up with one of history's most significant inventions, the lightbulb, but the inventor had other bright ideas too.

Just over a decade into the 20th Century, Edison also turned his hand to electric cars, as part of his vision to make the longest lasting battery in the world, according to Bob Burrell from Essex in the United Kingdom, who has just put the finishing touches to a restoration of a 1912 Edison electric car.

"He built three cars, one of which he drove from Scotland to London, charging it up along the way," Mr Burrell told the Sunday Express newspaper. The final leg of the journey from North to South was 170 miles, which makes GM's claim of a 170 mile journey in an Opel Ampera (the European market re-badged Volt) being the longest single electric vehicle journey in the U.K. look quite foolish. Edison's car managed the feat almost a century earlier...

The inventor had said that electricity was the future since "all the oil would be pumped out of the ground", but inevitably it was decided that more money could be made taxing gasoline and the electric car ideal dissipated. It's a story that echoes the fate of General Motors' EV-1 back in the 1990s, something insiders at GM admit was a mistake.

Edison's car might not be much of a performance machine compared to even the tardiest of modern EVs but with two 15-volt batteries and a 30-volt electric motor, its top speed of 25 miles per hour was more than competitive in its heyday.

Unique in appearance, lacking a large engine compartment like the Edison's contemporaries, the restoration revives an important vehicle from a time when many were experimenting with the best methods of vehicle propulsion, with electric, gasoline and steam all taking their place on the streets.

Unfortunately the other two cars that Edison built have vanished, making the survivor priceless.

Even back in the day, its price of £300 would have made it twice the cost of a contemporary gasoline car, though conspicuously good value in today's money having taken inflation into consideration, with a price of little over $10,000. It might be a while before today's EVs can be bought for that little...

Mr Burrell adds: "Imagine what we would have now if Edison had been listened to a century ago".

[Sunday Express]



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Comments (7)
  1. Am I the only one skeptical of the 170 mile claim for the Edison vehicle?
    Also, what is with the 170 Opel Ampera comparison? It was using gasoline after the first 40 miles, so why compare?
    And, can't the Tesla easily beat the claimed 170 mile range?
     
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  2. In '86 I bought a car that got ~47 mph. 25 years later and billions in research and development, Detroit is now producing hibrid cars that get around ..... 47 mph.
    The automobile industry is a complete farce. Someone new has to come in and do the revolutionizing.
     
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  3. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, it was first demonstrated to the Royal Society by Humphrey Davy 45 years before Edison was born.
    21 other inventors revealed their version to the world before Edison got his going.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_bulb
     
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  4. @ John Briggs - The Opel Ampera comparison was because of Opel(/Vauxhall)'s claim that 170 miles was the longest single journey in an electric vehicle to take place in the UK. We all know here that the Ampera/Volt can only run for a maximum of 40 miles on electricity before the range extended kicks in, so it was a bit of a cheeky claim. And if Edison's final leg was 170 miles as the history books seem to claim, then Opel's claim is also wrong!
    @ maht - Whilst Edison might not have come up with the concept of the light bulb, he was the first person to make it practical and long lasting. It dosesn't make his achievement any less important, no different from that of Karl Benz's first dedicated motor vehicle.
     
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  5. @Antony Ingram, Do you happen to have a link to the "history book"? I would be very curious to see how much data there is about this supposed 170 mile trip.
     
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  6. @ John Briggs - Alas no, I used the term as a figure of speech. Though I'd assume the gentleman who took the time and money to restore the car knows more about it than I do and I'm prepared to take his claims in good faith. Since the newspaper I sourced the article from didn't pry any further into the 170 mile claim, nor did I. It's perhaps worth remembering that in those times, top speed wasn't too high, and if you drove a number of modern EVs at such low and constant speeds you might see numbers approaching 170 miles, so it's not an unreasonable claim, even given the technology gap between then and now.
     
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  7. I have done some research on the matter. I haven't been able to find proof of 170 mile claim, but I can find proof of him being able to go well over 100 miles on a single charge. The reason is simple. there were no safety requirements. The cars weighed under a ton with most of the weight being the battery. They were essentially a motor with seats.
     
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