American Cars

American Cars


In 1900, 40% of American cars were powered by steam, 38% by electricity, and 22% by gasoline.


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In our modern era, we may assume that electric cars are a new technology. The Chevy Bolt, Nissan LEAF, and all Tesla vehicles are certainly cutting-edge automobiles, right? But there was a period in America a long time ago when about 30% of all cars were electric. (Today, only about 1% of the fleet runs on electricity.) Electric cars were first created in the early to mid-1800s.

In 1898, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, when 23 years old, built his first car, and it was the Lohner Electric Chaise. Also in 1898, Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris set a world speed record in a car, which happened to be in his electric Jeantaud. The speed record was 39.245 mph (62.8 km/h), but that was crushed a few days later by another electric car that went 65.79 mph (105.88 km/h).

By 1900, in the United States, 38% of US automobiles, 33,842 cars, were powered by electricity (40% were powered by steam and 22% by gasoline). This information might sound like some crackpot Internet hoax, but if you look at the sources, you can easily see they are credible. The US Dept. of Energy's page on the history of the electric car states, "By 1900, electric cars were at their heyday, accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road. During the next 10 years, they continued to show strong sales." By 1912, there were 38,843 on US roads.

Horses, steam-powered cars, and gas-powered cars were also available at that time. Electric cars were appealing to some women who preferred the quieter rides and the fact that electric cars started very easily — there was no crank to push and pull like gas mobiles of the time had. Additionally, there was no smoke, there were no smelly fumes, and there was no gassing up. A New York Times article from about 1911 described this preference.


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