(This story initially listed the horsepower rating for the 1895 Morris and Salom Electrobat IV incorrectly. It has been updated with the correct number.)
As if to prove there’s nothing new under the sun, last weekend’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance displayed some of America’s oldest — and newest — electric cars, a story that starts in 1894.
Seeing the newest EVs, which included the Cadillac Lyriq, Porsche Taycan, Lucid Air, Bollinger B1 and B2, Volkswagen ID.4, GMC Hummer SUV and pickup truck, Mini Electric and Ford Mustang Mach-E, alongside the oldest models shows how far we’ve come.
Recent advances in battery technology, and worldwide government laws requiring EVs be a part of the overall consumer vehicle market, are resurrecting the electric car, a vehicle that once commanded 38% of the new car market in the early 20th century.
While concerns about range and where to recharge persist, America’s earliest EVs prove how quickly we’ve advanced in the past decade. Here’s what was shown.
1895 Morris and Salom Electrobat IV
Considered the oldest surviving electric car, the Electrobat IV was developed by chemist Pedro Salom and engineer Henry Morris, who received the first U.S. patent for the electric car in 1894. With a steel tube frame and weighing 800 pounds, its twin 7.5-horsepower motors could go 15 mph for 25 miles. Ultimately, the pair would be pushed out of the company by Philadelphia lawyer Isaac Rice, who renamed it the Electric Vehicle Company, or EVC, while accruing more than 500 battery patents, as well as the notorious Selden patent.
1901 Waverley Electric
It may not look like an important car, but the 1901 Waverley Electric was part of Colonel Albert Pope’s plan to corner the auto market, something he accomplished in the bicycle market with the Indiana Bicycle Co. Waverley came together through the union of the American Electric Car Co. with Pope’s company in 1898. The unassuming two-passenger car features tiller steering, 36-inch wheels with pneumatic tires, dual coach lamps with a 2.5-horsepower motor goes 40 miles on a charge.
1905 Columbia XXXV Open Drive Brougham
Columbia electric cars, part of the aforementioned Albert Pope’s Pope Manufacturing, was established in 1899 to build electric taxicabs and passenger cars in competition with EVC. The Columbia attained 18 mph thanks to its 88-volt battery and two motors which power ring gears inside each rear wheel. The leather interior in this car is thought to be original. Once Pope’s empire crumbled, Columbia is absorbed by the United States Motor Co., an abortive effort at emulating General Motors.
1909 Baker Victoria Roadster
Marketed as “The Aristocrats of Motordom,” Bakers were widely admired. Thomas Edison owned one. President Taft bought one for the first White House automotive fleet. Founded in 1899, Baker claimed their cars could run 244 miles on a single charge, but 40-50 miles was more typically quoted by users. Powered by Edison batteries, the company was absorbed by Rauch and Lang in 1915, which would soon also fade.
1909 Studebaker Electric 13a
When Studebaker, then the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, began building automobiles in addition to Conestoga wagons in 1902, the company initially fielded electric vehicles because John Studebaker preferred them. This one, with a top speed of 18 mph, had batteries placed front and rear for equal weight distribution. Approximately 1,800 Studebaker EVs were built before being dropped in 1913.
1910 Waverley Four Passenger Coupe
Once Pope’s empire collapsed in 1908, local Indianapolis businessmen stepped in and bought the company, and with good reason. Many famous Americans owned Waverleys, including Madam C.J. Walker, Diamond Jim Brady, Willa Cather and Thomas Edison. This Waverley could travel up to 40 miles at 14 mph. Yet the company’s slogan, “The Silent Waverly,” proved prophetic; the automaker silently slipped away by 1917.
1912 Woods Model 1316 Extension Brougham
At a time when $690 bought as Ford Model T, a Woods Electric cost $3,000. Truly a luxury car, it had a top speed of 20 mph, and could run up to 100 miles on a charge. Organized in 1899 in Chicago to compete against EVC, Woods tried fielding a gas-electric hybrid dubbed the Dual Power as EV popularity declined. But it wasn’t enough to save the company, which closed the following year in 1913.
1921 Milburn Light Electric
Toledo, Ohio-based wagon-maker Milburn built its first electric car in 1914. Designed by Karl Probst, who would go on to design the Jeep prototype for American Bantam, this 1921 Milburn had range of 75 miles. But Milburn suffered a setback when a fire destroyed the company’s factory at a loss of $900,000. The company recovered, but demand for electric vehicles did not. By 1923, Milburn was gone. Buick acquired its factory.
1922 Detroit Electric 90
Although Henry Ford built Model Ts, his wife, Clara, preferred Detroit Electrics. Built by the Anderson Carriage Co., the Detroit Electric was rated as having 80 miles of range, the company claimed their tests showed that it could run more than 211 miles before recharging. The firm managed to survive into the 1930s. The name is now being used by a U.K.-based EV startup.
1972 Volkswagen Elektro-Bus
The Volkswagen Microbus was never known for its speed. But the Elektro-Bus, powered by 72 lead-acid cells, took 30 seconds to reach its top speed of 43 mph. Built between 1972 and 1976 for the German market, this all-electric variant of the gas-powered Type 2 Microbus suffered from battery technology that hadn’t advanced in eight decades. Approximately 70 were built.