Tesla may deserve the honor of making electric vehicles appealing to the general, but when it comes to the first commercial EV, the award goes to a car unimaginatively named the Electrobat. It puttered around on American roads before the 20th century.
In this article, I bring you the story of the Electrobat, the world’s first commercial electric vehicle.
How it all began
Before the Electrobat, many inventors had messed around with electric vehicles. However, they were limited by the batteries since they were not rechargeable, meaning you needed new batteries each time you drove.
In the late 19th century, an electrochemical engineer named Pedro Salom collaborated with an inventor named Henry G Morris. They aimed to create the world’s first practical electric automobile. The two men brought experience from working on electric urban streetcars to the table.
Salom and Morris made their first prototype in two months, receiving a patent in August 1894. The lead-acid battery weighed 1,600 pounds, making it necessary to use steel tires. During its initial test run, the pair required permission from City Hall and an escort as the steel tires made noises on the cobbled streets that scared away horses. Horse-pulled carriages were still a popular means of transportation at the time.
Salom and Morris had refined their invention in less than a year, reducing the battery weight significantly to 350 pounds. The fourth prototype was quiet because it used pneumatic tires.
Recognizing the business potential of their invention, the duo started the Morris and Salom Electric Wagon and Carriage Company (E.C.W.C). They presented the vehicle as a modern alternative to the hansom cab. Initially, each vehicle got a unique name until the company ran out of monikers and settled on calling them the Electrobat.
The Electrobat used two motors of 1.5 hp each and reached a max speed of 20 mph. Driving range was “20 miles a day for a week”, according to a news article.
The company produced dozens of units of the Electrobat, and they competed with horse-drawn cabs on the streets of New York. Some models made their way to Philadelphia and Boston.
The Morris and Salom Electric Wagon and Carriage Company was eventually bought by Isaac Rice, who renamed it Electric Vehicle Company. It would subsequently merge with the Columbia Vehicle Company.
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