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Electric Cars During World War One

March 22nd, 2011

electric-car-lemans.JPGDuring World War One (1914-1918) the European countries sent their gasoline to one place: the battlefront. Little remained for those back home. If you wanted to drive a car in Europe during the war, you had only one real choice. You needed an electric, say Curtis D. Anderson and Judy Anderson in their book Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History.

Europe’s natural resources did not include much natural gas, but they did include plentiful coal. England mined for coal. Germany mined for coal in occupied France. Today, we may think of electric cars as clean, but these early electric cars were not. For the most part, the burning of dirty coal fueled them. An exception would be in Italy, which converted energy from waterfalls into electricity.

America’s many car companies moved in to capitalize on the demand. Names abounded such as The Beardsley Electric Car Company, The Columbian Electric Car Company, The Century Electric Car Company and others. The most successful of these were the Ohio, Milburn, and Detroit Electric Car Companies, as well as a fourth company under the name of Rauch & Lang.

A new idea for battery recharging also appeared about this time. In most American large cities and in Berlin, Germany you could rent a battery until it began to run down, then return it to the battery station to rent another one. The station would own and recharge the battery. All you had to do is make sure you got there before the battery completely lost its charge.

It seemed the perfect confluence of events for American electric car manufacturers: cheap electricity, gasoline shortages, and improved battery recharging. Many predicted that electric cars were the future of automobiles and that the gas-powered variety would soon become a quaint piece of history.

At an auto show in New York City in 1919, the major electric automakers sold out to European, South American, and Japanese dealerships quickly. But afterward the interest fizzled. Battery-powered cars could not compete when gas became plentiful again. They were too slow, too heavy, and too expensive.

Harry E. Dey of Jersey City tried to come to the rescue of the electric car in 1919. He created a hybrid that contained within it a recharger that ran on gasoline. But nobody picked up his design.

How long did it take for interest in electrical cars to regain momentum? The answer is during World War Two when, once again, gasoline at the home front was relatively scarce.


This article on electric cars was supplied by Raymond Winters from Constant Content.


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