The Birth of the automobile industry

Driving with Parents

Children today have an entirely different experience driving with their parents than children of 100 or even 50 years ago. In the early years, everyone dressing in the proper attire and motoring was a wonderful excursion, the adventure possibly including a picnic basket for a stop along the way. Sunday drives were still common in the 1950s: driving along listening to a baseball game on the automobile radio, or everyone singing and playing travel games, or just watching the scenery fly by.

Today, look at the inhabitants of the SUV next to you in traffic. The children are strapped inappropriately, according to state and federal laws, and are either looking down while playing a video game or looking up at the video monitor as mom or dad drives them to their soccer practice or music lesson. Cars have become a mainstay, a necessity.

Maybe it is time to recapture that magic and adventure that only an auto ride can give. As Nick Emmanouilides says in an AutoWeek column, “Take your kids for a ride this weekend and leave the electronics at home. Take them to a greasy spoon. Let them ask questions. Answer them.”

Birth of an Industry

In 1900, consumers shopping for motorized transportation were offered a choice of steam-powered or gasoline-powered internal combustion engines (ICEs) or electric vehicles (EVs). The marketplace was divided, with no clear indication of which type would dominate. Steam-powered vehicles had speed and were less expensive, but required a long time to fire up and frequent stops for water.

The ICEs were dirtier, more difficult to start, and more expensive but could travel longer distances. EVs were clean and quiet, but slow and expensive. Each fought to be competitive in the open market in performance and price.

Electric and hybrid vehicles have a colorful past filled with ingenious inventions, patent wars, and idealistic goals. Their designers strove to produce non-polluting, elegant, easy-to-maintain transportation for the motoring public. The advertising has reflected the woman’s right to independence appealed to the environmental cause and bring a smile to motorists.

EV’s from 19th to 20th century

In the early years, EVs held a competitive share of the market, holding their own against the popular steam-engined and the faster, rumbling internal combustion engine automobiles. The prominence of EV’s at the Electrical Exhibition in 1899 showed that the good establishment of industry. By 1904 one-third of all powered vehicles in New York, Chicago and Boston were electric.

The advent of the electric starter, improved roads and the expansion of the road system in the second decade of the 20th century. Autos with longer range and higher speed, and the emergence of refueling infrastructure, had the market’s attention. Since the 1920s, EVs have balanced on the edge of the market, becoming popular for environmental crises.

Their alternate fuel source and non-polluting motor have historically been popular until the crisis passes, then interest wanes. The reality is that the ICE is still a gasoline-burning engine, with a transmission, wheels and gears, and so on. The most modern is simply a sophisticated version of the Model T.

Creativity in EV’s technology

Innovation resulted in many improvements and variations in the first EVs. The first horseless carriages were just that. The body design was similar to a horse-drawn carriage with a battery, a motor and a means of steering added. Until about 1895 the wheels were the standard wooden spoke variety with solid rubber tires.

Creative minds of the day saw a need for improving the ride. The introduction of pneumatic tires, smoothing out the ride, and helping reduce the damage vibration caused to the batteries. The run from Paris to Frouville in the fall of 1905 that covered about 130 miles on one battery charge, and the 100-mile trek from Cleveland to Erie over ordinary country roads, some of the sand, others with steep hills that taxed the battery charge, showed expanded potential for this auto that usually averaged 35 miles on a single charge.

The spirit of winning also gave impetus to improving the speed of the electrics. In the first decade of the 1900s, electric autos were worthy opponents in auto racing. A. L. Riker won a 1908 race at Narragansett Park, Rhode Island, driving five miles in 11 minutes and 28 seconds. The best gasoline car finished over a mile behind.

Laws and regulations

As for touring around the northeastern United States, in 1909 some avid automobilists took electric vehicles on trips up to 1,500 miles. Such innovation put the EVs in a viable market position during their early years. Competition, safety, and a potential revenue source impelled local and state governments to pass laws and regulations for these new vehicles.

The initiation of registration payments on new vehicles started. Rules for the right of way and speed appeared in the statutes. Lawsuits between horse-drawn and motorized vehicle owners hit the courts. All autos were assessed equally in the early decades, but by the 1920s the criterion for fees had changed. A vehicle’s weight became a factor.

Electrics, because of the extra weight from their onboard batteries, were charged a higher fee to cover wear and tear on the road’s surface. Laws and regulations gave electrics a slight disadvantage in the marketplace and a new source of financing for state and local governments.

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