Many people think of electric cars as being a recent invention. However, electric cars had a significant presence in the early 1900s. It was only after World War I that gasoline-powered vehicles became dominant.
The electric cars of the early 1900s are one of the least-known elements of automotive history. For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 electric cars from that era.
10) 1920 Owen Magnetic
The Owen Magnetic was powered by a six-cylinder gasoline engine. However, the electric powertrain in the car was used to power the transmission and shift the gears, allowing for the car’s smooth acceleration. Interestingly, the car was ahead of its time and featured regenerative braking, which helped recharge the batteries every time the brakes were utilized. This was a unique feature for electric cars in the early 1900s.
The car was known for its smooth ride and good handling, despite its hefty weight. The Owen Magnetic’s engine was powerful and could generate enough power to move the car comfortably, even with a full load. Its magnetic transmission made it switch smoothly between gears, and it could do so without any interruption of power.
Another great feature of the Owen Magnetic was its luxurious interior. The car had a spacious cabin with ample legroom, making it ideal for long rides.
However, the Owen Magnetic’s high price was its downfall. It sold for about $150,000 US in today’s money.
9) 1916 Detroit Electric Model 60
The Model 60 boasted top-of-the-line batteries that allowed it to achieve an impressive range for an electric car of that era. Its lead-acid batteries could power the car for up to 100 miles on a single charge, an accomplishment that was unmatched by its competitors.
This range earned it the nickname “mile-a-minute” as it could achieve a speed of 20-25 mph while maintaining a 100-mile range.
The Model 60 was built with durability and practicality in mind. The car was designed to carry passengers and cargo comfortably, with a spacious interior that could comfortably seat five people.
The car also came with a host of innovative features such as a regenerative braking system that recharged the batteries while the car was slowing down and an electric motor that delivered smooth and silent performance.
The Model 60 was also built with a temperature control system. This ensured that the batteries would remain at the optimal temperature for maximum efficiency.
The Model 60’s electric motor was made by General Electric, a company that developed motors for streetcars. Like the streetcars of San Francisco, the Model 60 was powerful enough to climb steep hills.
8) 1914 Rauch and Lang Electric Car
The Rauch and Lang Electric Car was a product of the Rauch and Lang Carriage Company, which was founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1848. During the late 1800s, the company began to shift from manufacturing carriages to producing electric cars.
By the early 1900s, the Rauch and Lang Electric Car had become a staple of early electric vehicles. Their decision to focus on the electric technology was a smart move that allowed them to dominate the early automobile industry.
One unique feature of the Rauch and Lang Electric Car was its advanced battery technology. The car was powered by an Edison battery, which was significantly more reliable and efficient than the batteries used by other electric car manufacturers at the time.
This gave the car a distinct advantage in terms of performance and battery life. The car could travel up to 60 miles on a single charge, which was an impressive feat at the time.
Another reason why the Rauch and Lang Electric Car was such a pioneer of early automobile innovation was its design. The car was sleek and modern, with a streamlined body that was far ahead of its time. The car incorporated elements of aerodynamics, which allowed it to travel faster and more efficiently.
The Rauch and Lang Electric Car was also one of the first cars to include a variety of modern amenities. The car came equipped with an electric starter, headlights, and even a heating system. This was an important selling point for consumers, who were looking for a car that could provide them with comfort and convenience.
The car was also designed to be incredibly safe, with features such as a hand-operated horn and a foot-operated brake.
7) 1910 Milburn Electric Model 27L
The Milburn Electric Model 27L, manufactured by the Milburn Wagon Company in the early 1900s, was one of the most successful electric car models of its time. The car featured a wooden body and a 60-ampere-hour battery that could cover a distance of up to 50 miles on a single charge.
What makes the Milburn Electric Model 27L stand out as one of the top 10 electric cars of its era? This car was equipped with unique features that set it apart from other electric car models at that time.
The car had an elegant design, featuring a sleek look and a choice of seven colors. Additionally, the Milburn electric car had no gears, no gasoline, and started at the push of a button. Its smooth and quiet ride was a major plus, making it a great car for city use.
Despite its old age, the Milburn Electric Model 27L remains an essential part of automotive history and an attractive classic car. The car has become a collector’s item, and the few models that survive today are highly valued.
The Milburn electric car was extremely popular among women, as it did not require hard crank starting. It was also a preferred car for doctors who needed a fast, silent, and smooth ride.
Image Source: CNET.com
6) 1907 Woods Queen Victoria Brougham
The Woods Queen Victoria Brougham featured a powerful electric motor that could take it up to 20 miles per hour. This might not seem like much, but it was a top speed that very few cars could achieve at the time.
The car was highly efficient, using a combination of battery power and a generator to keep going. It was also one of the most expensive cars of its time, costing about $136,000 in today’s money. This gave it an exclusive air, as only the wealthiest people could afford to drive it.
The car was also fitted with several safety features. It had a series of levers on the steering column that controlled the lights and horns, allowing the driver to keep their hands free. There was also a throttle lock that prevented the car from moving if it was left unattended.
The Woods Queen Victoria Brougham was a pioneer of regenerative braking. It was the first car to use this technology, which recharges the batteries while the car is slowing down.
Regenerative braking has since become a standard feature in modern electric cars, showing just how forward-thinking the Brougham was.
5) 1905 Baker Electric
The 1905 Baker Electric had a range of more than 100 miles per charge, an impressive achievement for the early 1900s.
The 1905 Baker Electric was ahead of its time with its impressive features. The car came with a top speed of 20 mph and boasted an elegant and luxurious design.
The Baker Electric’s comfortable leather seats and rubber tires made it one of the most sought-after cars of its time. Its smooth and quiet ride made it ideal for city driving, especially in cities that had anti-noise ordinances.
The Baker Electric is also notable for its long production history. The car was made between 1899 and 1916, a 17-year stretch. By comparison, the Owen Magnetic was only made for seven years.
4) 1904 Detroit Electric
The 1904 Detroit Electric was incredibly advanced for its time. This was a car that truly embraced the latest technology, with cutting-edge features like electric headlights and an electric starter motor.
At a time when most cars still relied on manual starting cranks and oil lamps for lighting, the Detroit Electric was a true marvel of modern engineering.
The 1904 Detroit Electric also had an extremely impressive 100-mile range. This was thanks to its innovative lead-acid battery system, which was the most advanced of its kind at the time.
The batteries were located under the front seat, freeing up space in the rear for a spacious cabin. This design was not only practical but also aesthetically pleasing, as it gave the vehicle a sleek, stylish look.
The lead-battery system was incredibly reliable and required minimal maintenance. It had a capacity of 15 kWh and could produce around 85 volts. The batteries could also be recharged easily, using a standard electrical outlet. This was another huge advantage over other types of early EVs.
The 1904 Detroit Electric also stood out for how simple it was to operate. All the driver needed to do was shift the car into gear and press the accelerator pedal, just like a modern electric car.
While other companies were still experimenting with various power sources, the Detroit Electric was already refining its batteries and perfecting its design.
3) 1903 Columbia Electric
Although the 1903 Columbia Electric had a somewhat limited range of around 40 miles, it was still a great choice for urban use. Owners could charge the battery overnight, which enabled them to drive around the city the following day.
The car stood out because of its impeccable charging system, which allowed for a consistent and steady flow of electric current to the battery. Conducted through a series of resistors and switches, the charging system was well-designed and efficiently replenished the battery’s charge.
The 1903 Columbia Electric was one of the first electric cars with a regenerative braking system. The car’s electric motor doubled as a generator during deceleration.
The 1903 Columbia Electric also had a well-designed and state-of-the-art transmission system. A single speed forward and reverse gearbox was controlled by a throttle, gear selector, and forward and reverse lever. These controls made for a seamless and smooth driving experience, which was unmatched in its time.
The 1903 Columbia Electric also had impressive aesthetics. The car was designed with models having a variety of exterior designs depending on the customer’s preference.
The car featured a brushed aluminum finish, which gave it a sleek and modern look. Additionally, the car’s interior was spacious and luxurious, with an impressive dashboard display.
2) 1900 Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid
The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid was powered by a combination of electricity and gasoline. This was made possible by its sophisticated hub motor technology, which placed electric motors inside the wheel-hubs and allowed for a multi-power system.
The electric motors helped to provide torque, even at low speeds, while the gasoline engine was used for high-speed driving. This innovation made the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid one of the most efficient cars of its time. It had a range of up to 80 miles on a single charge and a top speed of 37 miles per hour.
Another feature that made this vehicle one of the top ten electric cars of the early 1900s was its stylish and sleek design. The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid had an aerodynamic body that was avant-garde for its era. The design not only added to the car’s speed and efficiency but also turned it into a fashion statement for the elite.
The body was made of lightweight materials such as aluminum and magnesium alloy, which contributed significantly to its lightweight and improved handling.
One of the most significant manufacturing challenges in the early 1900s was the weight of the batteries. The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid’s blend of electric and gasoline power made it more efficient, which resulted in the use of small, lightweight batteries. This contributed to the car’s nimble handling, allowing drivers to maneuver through the streets with ease.
The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid was the first car to feature an all-wheel-drive system with electric motors in the hub, which is now a common feature in modern electric cars.
1) 1889 Flocken Elektrowagen
I know, I know: 1889 is before 1900. Nevertheless, there’s no way I could finish a list of the best early electric cars without mentioning the 1889 Flocken Elektrowagen.
The #1 reason why the Flocken Elektrowagen was the best electric car of its time was that it was the first mass-produced electric car. Johann Flocken, a German engineer, built and patented the Elektrowagen in 1888. The vehicle entered commercial production in 1889, and Flocken eventually produced around 100-200 units before discontinuing production in 1893.
The Elektrowagen’s mass-production made it accessible to the general public, and it helped establish electric cars as a viable means of transportation.
The Flocken Elektrowagen was also superior to other electric cars of its time in terms of range and speed. The vehicle could reach a speed of up to 10 miles per hour and had a range of 30 to 50 miles on a single charge. This was a vast improvement compared to other electric cars of the era.
With its impressive range and speed, the Elektrowagen could be used for everyday transportation.
The Flocken Elektrowagen also had a relatively advanced electrical system for its time. It had an advanced lead-acid battery system that could hold 44 ampere-hours of energy. It also had a regenerative brake system allowed it to convert kinetic energy into electricity, helping to extend its range.
While the Flocken Elektrowagen was not the first electric car ever made, it was the first mass-produced electric car that could rival ICE vehicles in terms of performance and range. It helped break the notion that electric cars were toys or novelties and proved that they could be practical transportation.