To be sure, cars around 1900 delivered a bumpy ride compared to the vehicles of today that roll along on cushy tires, but for folks used to being pulled along in horse-powered carts, it was an improvement!
Here, take a look back at some of the earliest cars that were on the market at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. You’ll notice a surprising number of electric vehicles — plus you can find out why the Teslas of their day pretty much disappeared from the scene for so many decades.
The advent of the automobile (1899)
Article from The Saint Paul Globe (Missouri) July 23, 1899
The horse, as a machine, has his drawbacks. One is that he wears out too soon. Another is his general unreliability, and his tendency to spavin and heaves when overworked. His fuel is comparatively expensive, and whether he is working or standing idle, it must be supplied to him.
So in this age of applied science, our old equine favorite is passing away.
The electric gong of the automobile has sounded his deathknell, and now, no matter how old-fashioned cavaliers may struggle against the tide of current events, the horse, as a piece of machinery, is bound to go.
Although for some 5000 years, if history is right in the matter, he has been doing faithful duty to man, his venerable bones must at last be relegated to the dime museum and his fatted and degenerate descendants sent to the Teutonic chophouses.
That he may still be seen ambling unapprehensively up and down the streets of our different American cities is quite true, but now that the automobile has passed out of the experimental stage of its existence, and is firmly established in popular favor, it is simply a matter of time till the merchant and the millionaire, the drayman and the doctor, will all “mote” about the face of this earth for business or pleasure, as the case may be.
The automobile is clean, economical and convenient. It never eats its head off. It never balks or shies into a ditch. It does not get distemper and have to be shot. It does not leave dirty streets behind it, and it can wriggle through a crowded thoroughfare quicker than an equine Stradivarius can flick off a fly with his tail.
So it is no wonder that we are approaching the reign of the automobile. The king is dead! Long live the king!
The capricious equine already has an old-fashioned and awkward and slothful and unbusinesslike look about him, and, though he may not pass absolutely away for the next few years, the time will certainly come when he will be forbidden on the carefully-kept streets of our twentieth-century cities, where only the gentle drone of the Watt motor and the hum of the electric Victoria will be heard.
During the last year or two, great improvements have been made in the building of autocarriages, and the only problem now remaining with the manufacturer is the question of reducing the cost of construction.
Cars from the 1900s
An automobile costs at present from $800 to $5000, while hydrocarbon and gasoline wagons sell from $600 to $2000.
Some of the smaller popular self-propelling traps are sold for as little as $700, though they have not yet been reduced to their most perfect mechanical form.
They will, however, run 75 miles without a recharge, which consists of one gallon of gasoline. They will carry two passengers over this distance at a respectable rate of sped with that small amount of fuel.
The gasoline engine always emits a slightly disagreeable odor, however, and this will always be a point in its disfavor. Nor have its builders yet overcome its tendency to radiate heat, so that the more popular vehicle for a time at least will be the electric carriage.
These are so built that their storage batteries can be charged at any 110 volt direct current circuit, such as that ordinarily used for lighting purposes, but even an electric carriage will give out the same as the old horse if overtaxed.
In places where the direct current is not available for recharging, by means of a simple apparatus the alternating current can be used, though it takes about three hours to restore or charge batteries that have been completely exhausted.
In time, it is highly probable, electric hydrants will be placed all about towns and cities and along country roads for the use of “motors.” These will presumably be a sort of quarter in the slot machines.
The present cost for recharging a battery is not fixed, but ranges all the way from 40 cents to a couple of dollars, depending on locality and circumstances.
The cost of a new battery, by the way, is about $300, so that the man who ill treats this sensitive piece of machinery will find it about as expensive to keep as an overdriven thoroughbred.
The earliest cars in America: Antique Winton Racer motor car (1900)
Vintage Waverly Stanhope motor car (from 1900)
One of the earliest automobiles: Lane Steam Surrey (1902)
Vintage cars from the early 1900s
A modern Tally-ho (1899)
A Stanley Buggy (1899)
Why did early electric cars disappear? A little automotive history
Adapted from an article by Rebecca Matulka for the US Department of Energy
As electric vehicles came onto the market, so did a new type of vehicle — the gasoline-powered car — thanks to improvements to the internal combustion engine in the 1800s. While gasoline cars had promise, they weren’t without their faults.
They required a lot of manual effort to drive — changing gears was no easy task, and they needed to be started with a hand crank, making them difficult for some to operate. They were also noisy, and their exhaust was unpleasant.
Electric cars didn’t have any of the issues associated with steam or gasoline. They were quiet, easy to drive, and didn’t emit a smelly pollutant like the other cars of the time.
Electric cars quickly became popular with urban residents — especially women. They were perfect for short trips around the city, and poor road conditions outside cities meant few cars of any type could venture farther.
As more people gained access to electricity in the 1910s, it became easier to charge electric cars, adding to their popularity with all walks of life.
Many innovators at the time took note of the electric vehicle’s high demand, exploring ways to improve the technology. For example, Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the sports car company by the same name, developed an electric car called the Egger-Lohner C.2 Phaeton (also known as the P1) in 1898.
Around the same time, he created the world’s first hybrid electric car — a vehicle that was powered by electricity and a gas engine.
Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors (and a major electricity advocate) thought electric vehicles were superior technology and worked to build a better electric vehicle battery.
Even Henry Ford, who was friends with Edison, partnered with Edison to explore options for a low-cost electric car in 1914, according to Wired.
Yet, it was Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T that dealt a blow to the electric car. Introduced in 1908, the Model T made gasoline-powered cars widely available and affordable. By 1912, the gasoline car cost only $650, while an electric roadster sold for $1,750.
That same year, Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, eliminating the need for the hand crank, and giving rise to more gasoline-powered vehicle sales.
Other developments also contributed to the decline of the electric vehicle. By the 1920s, the U.S. had a better system of roads connecting cities, and Americans wanted to get out and explore.
With the discovery of Texas crude oil, gas became cheap and readily available for rural Americans, and filling stations began popping up across the country. In comparison, very few Americans outside of cities had electricity at that time.
In the end, electric vehicles all but disappeared by 1935.
Electric Phaeton vintage automobile from 1899
Graut Bros.’ Hydrocarbon Trap turn-of-the-century car (1899)
One of the earliest cars: Haynes gasoline buggy (1899)
Indiana Automobile Co. Brake (1899)
In one of the earliest cars: Messrs. Curtis and Blair with their ladies (1899)
New Fifth Avenue electric stage coach car (1899)
The Overman Tea Cart – A Victorian-era car (1899)
Riker electric Cabriolet (1899)
Riker Hotel Bus (1899)
The Riker — Brake (1899)
The earliest automobiles in America: The Riker – Coupe (1899)
Twentieth Century Victoria (1899)
Two up-to-date Automobilistes (1899)
One of the earliest automobiles: Vintage Waverley wagonette (1899)
Vollmer Forecarriage Victoria (1899)
1900s Detroit Automobile Company’s Surrey
1900s Touring car by Detroit Automobile Company
American cars from 1900s: Dalifol & Thomas’ Jack light road carriage
Ideal electric runabout from the 1900s
J.Dunbar Wright in his gasoline carriage (1900s)
Oakman gasoline buggy (1900)
Stanley carriage with canopy top (1900)
The Auto-Car Company’s carriage (1900)
The Robinson gasoline carriage (1900)
The start of the second run of the Buffalo Automobile Club (July 1900)
The Victor automobile (1900)
Vintage 1900s automobile — Kensington Stanhope (Buffalo)
An old Winton two-passenger carriage (1900)
Winton two seated Surrey (1900)
One of the earliest automobiles: The New Packard (1901)
The St. Louis Automobile Trap (1901)
Albert C. Bostwick in his 40 horsepower Winton Racer (1902)
Harlan W. Whipples 16 horsepower Napier (1902)
Henri Fournier and company in his 60 HP Mors (1902)
(left) Henri Fournier and Albert C. Bostwick in former’s 60 HP (horsepower) Mors.
(right) A.W.S Cochrane, Bradford B. McGregor, J. Dunbar Wright.
Hon. C.S. Rolls at the steering wheel (1902)
James Macnaughtan in 12 HP gasmobile (1902)
Madame Lockert in Richard IV (1902)
Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Elliott in electric stanhope (1902)
Mrs. Kennard driving automobile “Sir Charles” (1902)
One of the earliest automobiles: Old Grout steam carriage (1902)
Side view of Touring car (1902)
Winton Touring car (1902)
W.N. Murray at wheel, George A. Ballentine beside him, W.C. Carnegie in tonneau.
For Two on a Tour
The Franklin Gentleman’s Roadster is unique among motor-cars. It has a 12 horse-power four-cylinder air-cooled engine in a runabout body; the total weight being only 1050 pounds.
It can be fitted with canopy, cape or Victoria top, and is designed and engineered for swift touring, and business purposes; with safety, comfort and wonderful economy.
This type of car, but with less horse power, last summer carried Whitman and Carris from San Francisco to New York in less than 33 days, cutting the record nearly in halves.
It recently made a record run from Minneapolis to Northfield, Minn., a distance of 108 miles in 3 hours and 35 minutes, under very bad road conditions, reducing the record by 1 hour ; and in the Boston Club run to Providence, 47 miles and return, passed is large touring cars, beating one of the best and most famous 30 hp water-cooled car by 12 minutes
No other car in its class, and few in any class, can compare with it for practical, economical touring and all-day mileage. As a business runabout it is unequaled by any other car. Send for catalog.
Six Models for 1905: Roadster, Light Touring cars, High-powered Touring cars – H H Franklin Mfg. Co., Syracuse, NY
DON’T MISS THIS: See the top automobiles for 1911