Classic Cars A to Z

Electric Car History (1900-1969)

Beginning around 1830, inventors in both Europe and the U.S. began experimenting with battery-powered vehicles. By 1900, electric cars accounted for about a third of all vehicles on the road.

history of the electric car

Image Courtesy NY Times

Over the next several decades, many styles of electric vehicles (EV's) starting appearing. American-based companies included Baker Motor Vehicle, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and Studebaker.


Baker Electric Car

The Baker Motor Vehicle Company was based in Cleveland Ohio, and produced electric cars from 1900 to 1916.

history of the electric car


Detroit Electric Car

Early examples of the Detroit Electric Car featured a rechargeable lead acid battery, with later models having an Edison nickel-iron battery. They were advertised as getting 80 miles between battery recharging.

Detriot Electric car

The car in the pictures below is a 1917 Detroit Electric, which presently resides at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon.

Detriot Electric car at WAAAM Museum

Images Courtesy WAAAM Museum

Detroit Electric produced their last new car in 1924, but a handful of remanufactured old cars, some with contemporary bodies, were offered until 1939.


Decline Of Electric Cars

Popularity of electric cars tailed off around 1920, due to several reasons. One of their major drawbacks was the high cost. Henry Ford's new mass-production techniques made gas-powered cars significantly cheaper than electric cars.

Other reasons for their decline in popularity were they weren't able to travel as far or go as fast as equivalent gas-powered cars. And electric cars were also more difficult to service.



In 1932, only 10% of rural America was electrified, thus making it difficult to find a place to charge your electric car!

By the mid 1930's, interest in EV's faded and would not resurface for several decades.


The Henney Kilowatt

Produced from 1959 to 1961, the Henney Kilowatt electric car had a claimed top speed of 60 mph and a range of 60 miles. They were produced by Henney Coachworks and the National Union Electric Company.

electric cars through history

The base car for the Henney Kilowatt was a Renault Dauphine, chosen for it's light weight and rear-mounted engine compartment, which was ideal for fitting an electric motor. Although innovative, the Henney Kilowatt's high price discouraged potential buyers.


Electric Corvair

Among automotive prototypes seemingly lost to time, there was the electric Corvair.

electric corvair

In 1964, General Motors built the 'Electrovair', a Corvair with the rear-mount engine and transmission removed and replaced with electric system components.

In 1966, a more powerful 'Electrovair 2' produced 115 horsepower (versus earlier 90 horsepower), and featured an AC-induction motor powered by silver-zinc batteries. Not only were these batteries heavy and expensive, they also wore out after about 100 recharges. In the real world, that would mean replacing them every 4,000 to 8,000 miles.

history of the electric car

Although never offered to the public, GM touted the electric Corvair as having a top speed of 80 miles-per-hour and a range 40-80 miles.


Electric Vehicle Symposium

The first Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) took place in 1969. It began as an academic forum for global networking and the exchange of technical information for electric vehicles. Since then, they have been held every 12 to 18 months in different cities and countries all over the world.


Related Articles:

Electric Car History 1970-1989
Electric Car History 1990-1999