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]