Electrics and Hybrids at The Henry Ford
27 artifacts in this set
With zero gallons per mile, say goodbye to gas lines and high gasoline prices. That was the promise in this 1980 sales catalog from Omega Electric car. Their lineup was more stylish but no more popular than other electrics of the era.
Despite its no-frills design, the electric CitiCar seemed like the right car at the right time when it debuted in 1974. Gas prices were climbing and environmental awareness was growing. The CitiCar was efficient and eco-friendly, but gas prices fell and the company never sold more than 5,000 vehicles. The last CitiCar was built by a successor firm in 1982.
Early automobiles, even electric-powered ones like this 1901 Columbia, looked like carriages. Batteries located over the front and rear axles powered this victoria. The carriage had a 20 to 30-mile range between charges. The owner, Washington Post publisher John McLean, rode in the covered center, while his chauffeur steered from behind.
The Comuta-Car, and its predecessor the CitiCar, were electric cars designed for limited use in cities. Sharp increases in gasoline prices in the 1970s persuaded some 4,000 people to buy the tiny vehicles. But every time the price of fuel spiked, it always fell again, and demand for specialized urban electrics always fell along with it. Will the time for such cars ever come?
Clara Ford, wife of Henry Ford, drove this Detroit Electric. In the years before World War I many women chose electric cars because they started instantly without hand cranking and had no difficult-to-shift transmission. The superintendent of the Detroit Electric factory employed his daughter, Lillian Reynolds, to sell to women -- including Clara Ford, who drove this car into the 1930s.
In 1916, gasoline was cheap, and no one cared about tailpipe emissions. But this hybrid wasn't about fuel prices or pollution. Woods Motor Vehicle Company built it to capture new customers. Sales of the company's electric cars were falling as more people chose gasoline-burning cars. The Dual-Power supposedly combined the best of both, but customers disagreed. The car and the company disappeared in 1918.
The Baker Motor Vehicle Company advertised its elegantly styled electric car in this 1910 ad. Clearly aimed at well-to-do women, this advertisement discusses only a couple of the vehicle's operational and mechanical features -- a noiseless shaft drive and ease of riding. Company advertisers believed these features were desired by the refined, society-conscious woman and would encourage the purchase of their automobile.
Car brochures have evolved from straightforward product catalogues into polished creative sales tools. Their quality paper, rich color, inventive formats, and sophisticated graphic design all contribute to a buyer's developing impression of a car in a showroom. Advertising might entice people to a dealership, but brochures extend and deepen the relationship between vehicle and potential buyer.
"Electric Automobile Charging Stations in New York City and Vicinity," with Maps, Second Edition, August 1923
Americans still drove electric cars in the 1920s. The New York Edison Company's Automobile Bureau published this booklet for electric-car owners. It included a map and address listings for local charging stations in New York City. Stations outside the immediate area, as far as Boston and Philadelphia, were also listed.
This 1914 catalog for the Detroit Electric used vehicle specifications and colorful illustrations to sell their automobiles.
Advertisement from LIFE Magazine for 1910 Detroit Electric Car, "This Battery Will Outwear Your Car"
Detroit Electrics used Edison batteries. Many advertisements, like this one from 1910, used the famous inventor's image and reputation to boost confidence in the car's reliability.
Detroit Electric was the best-known and longest-lived American electric car company. Detroit Electric built cars from 1907 to 1942, although after 1930 production was limited to custom orders. This elegant four-passenger Model 90 coupe was in regular use from 1922 to 1934. A large battery provided electricity for the vehicle's electric motor. The car had a driving range of 70 to 100 miles between charges and a top speed of about 25 miles per...
Hybrid automobiles improve fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions compared to standard internal combustion-powered cars. Hybrids use small internal combustion engines and battery-powered electric motors. Powerful computers and sophisticated software coordinate the smooth, seamless transfer of power between the two units. This Prius is one of Toyota's first-generation hybrids, introduced in the United States in 2000.
Auto pioneer A.L. Riker built this electric tricycle in Brooklyn, New York, in 1896. Its tubular steel frame, wire wheels, and pneumatic tires are adapted from bicycle practice. Lead-acid batteries are under the seat, and a 40-volt, one-horsepower electric motor powered the rear wheel. Although quite successful at building electric vehicles, Riker sold his company in 1900 and became chief engineer of Locomobile, a builder of high-quality...
This was the most serious attempt to build an all-purpose electric car since the 1920s. General Motors built 1,117 cars between 1996 and 1999, leasing them to a loyal group that willingly adjusted to battery power's limitations. But GM concluded there were too few electric enthusiasts to support large-scale production and recalled all the cars by the end of 2003. EV1 users objected loudly, but to no avail.
General Motors' EV1 electric automobile, introduced in 1996, earned a devoted following. So much so that, when the model was canceled in 2003, some fans suspected a conspiracy between GM, petroleum interests and politicians. The 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? explored this and other theories for the EV1's demise.
1916 Milburn Electric Advertisement, "Milburn Light Electric...The Greatest Electric Success Ever Known"
Between 1915 and 1923, the Milburn Wagon Company manufactured about 4000 of these quiet, clean, stylish electric cars. They were considered perfect for women when compared to gasoline cars, which were considered noisy, smelly, and difficult to operate. But they could also be prohibitively expensive, slow, and difficult for climbing hills, and they ran out of power much more quickly.
B. Altman and Company, a New York City department store, purchased this electric truck from F. R. Wood and Son around 1900. Altman employed horse-drawn delivery wagons but began to experiment with electric trucks in 1898 as a cost cutting measure. Electric trucks dispensed with the care and maintenance costs of horses. This truck made twice-daily trips from a warehouse to a distribution center.
An engineer from Cleveland, Ohio, named Walter C. Baker, along with F. Philip Dorn, built an electrically powered automobile in 1897 and organized the Baker Motor Vehicle Company in 1899. The company specialized in electric vehicles and, by 1905, its annual production was approximately 400 cars. Electricity competed against gasoline and steam as a popular power option for early automobiles.
Thomas Edison had this car built about 1889 to investigate electricity as a power source for automobiles. The three-wheeled vehicle has two electric motors, each separately connected to one of the front wheels. Having successfully operated the car, Edison put it aside for several years. He reactivated the runabout in 1905 to test experimental nickel-alkaline batteries.
President William Howard Taft motorized the White House in 1909 when he purchased a steam-powered White, two gasoline-powered Pierce-Arrows and a Baker Electric. Three years later, Taft replaced the 1909 Baker with this 1912 Victoria model for the First Lady's use. It remained in use until 1928, serving Helen Taft, Ellen Wilson, Edith Wilson, Florence Harding, and Grace Coolidge.
Ford Motor Company built two of these vehicles to promote electric cars. Starting with a European Ford Focus, engineers replaced the stock powertrain with an electric motor and batteries. The cars were driven by various celebrities appearing on comedian Jay Leno's television talk show. One car was donated to The Henry Ford, the other to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Andrew Riker, an early believer in the electric car, designed this battery-powered racer in 1901. He raced it at Coney Island, New York, that November and, at 57.1 miles per hour, set a world speed record for electric cars. It was a triumph for electricity, but Riker soon lost faith. He joined Locomobile the next year and started designing gasoline-powered automobiles.
For a long time, major car manufacturers didn't make electrics. This did not stop electric vehicle enthusiasts. Manuals, such as the 1993 book Convert It, helped them build their own.
This handbill, which advertised the Comuta-Car, promoted the electric vehicle's energy savings and pollutions control. These factors, plus fluctuating fuel prices, however, could not convince enough people to purchase these vehicles.
The Henney Motor Company produced an electric vehicle, based on the French-made Renault Dauphine, in 1959 and 1960. The cruising speed was around 30 miles per hour, with a range of about 40 miles between charges. This sales catalog for the Henney Kilowatt provided answers to questions buyers had about the vehicle.
The Owen Magnetic had no mechanical connection between its engine and driveshaft. Power was sent from the gasoline engine to the wheels through a magnetic clutch and an electric motor. The result, in effect, was an automatic transmission with no clutch pedal to push and no gears to shift. The complex system was expensive, and the company fell into receivership in 1920.