Electric Car Drivers: Be Thankful You Didn't Recharge In 1900!


1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

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Charging an electric car today isn't necessarily quite as easy as pulling up to the gas pump in a gasoline or diesel model.

Long charging times and sparse public charging infrastructure can cause some inconvenience for electric-car drivers.

But it could be worse.

DON'T MISS: 1914 Detroit Electric: Pretty Spry For A Century Old (Video) (Jun 2011)

When the first wave of electric cars hit U.S. roads at the turn of the 20th century, drivers had to deal with largely the same issues as their modern counterparts--and with much less sophisticated technology.

Carmakers and drivers made the most of it, though, implementing some solutions that would be echoed over a century later.

A survey of early electric-car charging published by the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C., shows these efforts as something of a preview of modern charging infrastructure.

1914 Detroit Electric car, Schenectady, NY, June 2011 - original lead-acid batteries

1914 Detroit Electric car, Schenectady, NY, June 2011 - original lead-acid batteries

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Just like today, dealerships selling early electric cars maintained their own charging equipment.

Cars could be left at these garages for charging and then retrieved when needed.

The batteries of certain models could even be removed and charged in a central "battery room."

ALSO SEE: Electric-Car Rally Celebrates 'Sociability Run' 100 Years Ago: UPDATE (Jun 2014)

There were also home-charging stations, which were quite a bit bulkier than the ones used today.

Any charging equipment connected to an AC source used a mercury-arc rectifier to convert the current to DC for the batteries.

These were essentially glass bulbs containing pools of liquid mercury--not exactly the safest thing for humans or the environment.

Interior of 1914 Detroit Electric duplex brougham, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

Interior of 1914 Detroit Electric duplex brougham, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

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In addition to dealership-run and home charging, there was also at least one early attempt at a public charging station.

The "Electrant"--electric hydrant--was designed by General Electric as a way to make charging more accessible.

Somewhat resembling a period police call box, it dispensed 2.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity for 25 cents.

MORE: Mercedes-Benz Touts Its Hybrid History From Way Back In 1906 (May 2014)

And like modern 240-volt Level 2 AC or DC fast-charging stations, the Electrant was meant to be placed virtually anywhere a car could be parked.

History repeats itself: GE today sells the WattStation, a modern 240-Volt Level 2 charging station--one of more than a dozen companies now offering similar products for home and commercial use.

Despite the relatively primitive technology, electric cars enjoyed a spurt of popularity at the dawn of the automobile age.

1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

1914 Detroit Electric car, owned by GE scientist Charles Steinmetz, Schenectady, NY, June 2011

Enlarge Photo

Internal-combustion cars didn't have a national network of gas stations to support them, and many people were put off by their noise, smells, and unfamiliarity with the technology.

Electric cars ultimately lost that battle, once Charles Kettering introduced the electric self-starter in 1912, which eliminated the risk that crank-starting a gasoline car would break your thumb or perhaps your arm.

And a century later, the same virtues of silent running and gasoline-free use still make electric cars appealing today.

[hat tip: Chris Neff]

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