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Week of 6.9.06

Timeline: Life & Death of the Electric Car

1832-1839
Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invents the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.

1835
American Thomas Davenport is credited with building the first practical electric vehicle -- a small locomotive.

1859
French physicist Gaston Planté invents the rechargeable lead-acid storage battery. In 1881, his countryman Camille Faure will improve the storage battery's ability to supply current and invent the basic lead-acid battery used in automobiles.

1891
William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa builds the first successful electric automobile in the United States.

Photo of Edison and an electric car. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Thomas Edison and an electric car. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian
1893
A handful of different makes and models of electric cars are exhibited in Chicago.

1897
The first electric taxis hit the streets of New York City early in the year. The Pope Manufacturing Company of Connecticut becomes the first large-scale American electric automobile manufacturer.

1899
Believing that electricity will run autos in the future, Thomas Alva Edison begins his mission to create a long-lasting, powerful battery for commercial automobiles. Though his research yields some improvements to the alkaline battery, he ultimately abandons his quest a decade later.

1900
The electric automobile is in its heyday. Of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States 28 percent are powered by electricity, and electric autos represent about one-third of all cars found on the roads of New York City, Boston, and Chicago.

Photo of a Ford Model T
A Ford Model T
1908
Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced and gasoline-powered Model T, which will have a profound effect on the U.S. automobile market.

1912
Charles Kettering invents the first practical electric automobile starter. Kettering's invention makes gasoline-powered autos more alluring to consumers by eliminating the unwieldy hand crank starter and ultimately helps pave the way for the electric car's demise.

1920
During the 1920s the electric car ceases to be a viable commercial product. The electric car's downfall is attributable to a number of factors, including the desire for longer distance vehicles, their lack of horsepower, and the ready availability of gasoline.

1966
Congress introduces the earliest bills recommending use of electric vehicles as a means of reducing air pollution. A Gallup poll indicates that 33 million Americans are interested in electric vehicles.

1970s
Concerns about the soaring price of oil -- peaking with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 -- and a growing environmental movement result in renewed interests in electric cars from both consumers and producers.

1972
Victor Wouk, the "Godfather of the Hybrid," builds the first full-powered, full-size hybrid vehicle out of a 1972 Buick Skylark provided by General Motors (G.M.) for the 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program. The Environmental Protection Association later kills the program in 1976.

Vanguard-Sebring's CitiCar
Vanguard-Sebring's CitiCar
1974
Vanguard-Sebring's CitiCar makes its debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, D.C. The CitiCar has a top speed of over 30 mph and a reliable warm-weather range of 40 miles. By 1975 the company is the sixth largest automaker in the U.S. but is dissolved only a few years later.

1975
The U.S. Postal Service purchases 350 electric delivery jeeps from AM General, a division of AMC, to be used in a test program.

1976
Congress passes the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act. The law is intended to spur the development of new technologies including improved batteries, motors, and other hybrid-electric components.

1988
Roger Smith, CEO of G.M. , agrees to fund research efforts to build a practical consumer electric car. G.M. teams up with California's AeroVironment to design what would become the EV1, which one employee called "the world's most efficient production vehicle." Some electric vehicle enthusiasts have speculated that the EV1 was never undertaken as a serious commercial venture by the large automaker.

1990
California passes its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate, which requires two percent of the state's vehicles to have no emissions by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003. The law is repeatedly weakened over the next decade to reduce the number of pure ZEVs it requires.

1997
Toyota unveils the Prius -- the world's first commercially mass-produced and marketed hybrid car -- in Japan. Nearly 18,000 units are sold during the first production year.

1997 - 2000
A few thousand all-electric cars (such as Honda's EV Plus, G.M.'s EV1, Ford's Ranger pickup EV, Nissan's Altra EV, Chevy's S-10 EV, and Toyota's RAV4 EV) are produced by big car manufacturers, but most of them are available for lease only. All of the major automakers' advanced all-electric production programs will be discontinued by the early 2000s.

2002
G.M. and DaimlerChrysler sue the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to repeal the ZEV mandate first passed in 1990. The Bush Administration joins that suit.

Crushed EV1 electric cars
Crushed EV1 electric cars
2003
G.M. announces that it will not renew leases on its EV1 cars saying it can no longer supply parts to repair the vehicles and that it plans to reclaim the cars by the end of 2004.

2005
On February 16, electric vehicle enthusiasts begin a "Don't Crush" vigil to stop G.M. from demolishing 78 impounded EV1s in Burbank, California. The vigil ends twenty-eight days later when G.M. removes the cars from the facility. In the film "Who Killed the Electric Car" G.M. spokesman Dave Barthmuss states that the EV1s are to be recycled, not just crushed.

2006
A few pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids are in limited production and new ones are on the horizon. Experts differ on how soon rising oil prices, peak oil forecasts, changing fortunes at car companies, and public demand for cars that run without gasoline will resurrect the mass market for electric car in the twenty-first century. The success of the gasoline hybrid Toyota Prius is a promising sign.

Sources: Hybridcars.com: History, Electric Auto Association: Electric Vehicle History, IEEE Power Engineering Society: "Electric Vehicles In The Early Years Of The Automobile" by Carl Sulzberger, About.com: The History of Electric Vehicles, Econogics: EV History, Smithsonian Institution: Edison After Forty, Who Killed the Electric Car?



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