The History of EVs:The Dawn of Disruption

Electric vehicles have a deeply rooted history beginning in the humblest of 19th-century workshops and continuing on into the modern technology driven era. Important events provided insight into electric vehicles and their contributions towards putting the world on wheels.

The EV Genesis: 1828-1840

A handful of inventors across Europe and the United States contributed to the creation of the EV with a series of breakthroughs. The earliest account of electric vehicles can be traced back to innovators such Ányos Jedlik of Hungary (1828), Robert Davidson of Scotland (1837), Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of the Netherlands(1835) , and Thomas Davenport of the United States(1834)  experimenting with the concept of a battery-powered vehicle. They created some of the first small-scale EVs in the years noted. Around the same time, British inventor Robert Anderson developed the first “electric carriage”. French and English inventors would then later build some of the first practical electric cars during the second half of the 19th century.

Early Growth and Adoption: 1840-1900

The mid-19th century represented many key innovations for EVs such as rechargeable lead acid batteries invented by French physicist Gaston Planté in 1859.  Fast forward 25 years to the building of the first practical production electric vehicle in London in 1884 by English inventor Thomas Parker using high-capacity rechargeable batteries he created. In 1886 the first car dealership exclusively selling EVs was opened in the U.S. The following year EVs became the first vehicle to use power steering and electric self-starters, representing a 20- year lead in self-starting technology over gas-powered vehicles.

1889 saw Thomas Edison build an EV using nickel-alkaline batteries. In the late 1890s, EVs outsold gasoline cars ten to one and dominated the roads and dealer showrooms as a result. At the same time, William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa developed what would be the first successful American electric car ; a six-passenger wagon capable of reaching a speed of 14 mph. Most of the early electric vehicles to follow were massive, ornate carriages with luxurious interiors trimmed with expensive materials. The EVs of this time were mostly designed for the upper-class customers, who in turn made them both popular and trendy. The 19th century would then came to a close with the Pope Manufacturing Company forming the Electric Vehicle Company in 1899, the first large-scale operation in the US automobile industry.

For more on EVs be sure to like us on Facebook to get the most up to date news and happenings. Check back soon for part 2 of our History of EV series which covers the rise of EVs and their widespread adoption during the early days of the 20th century. 


  • Photo credit:
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