Any Girl Can Drive the Electric Car in 1910!


The insightful University of Minnesota blog Sociological Images posted this gem recently.  It’s an ad from the Los Angeles Daily Times, dated January 5, 1910.

That’s 100 years ago!

Sociological Images focused on the ad angle suggesting that “electric cars are appropriate for women because they’re clean, quiet, and easy to drive.”

Clean?  Easy to drive?  Sounds good to me — I’d buy one, too!  What struck me equally so was that electric vehicles were being hawked to the American public a century ago.  What happened?  Where did they go?

For that, I turn to my friend David L. Anderson, grease monkey and clean-transport tech guru at That Car Blog:

“Actually, around the turn of the century, 28% of the cars produced in the U.S. were electric drive.  By the 1920’s, however, they weren’t really considered commercially viable, mostly (probably) because of the advent of the electric starter for gasoline-powered cars.

“Before the electric starter, electric cars WERE easier to drive.  Gasoline-fueled cars required you to crank them by hand to start them, which was often difficult — and dangerous.  People broke their hands/wrists/arms when the car started, if they didn’t let go of the handle quickly enough.

“I never really knew that they were marketed towards women, if in fact they were.  But that’s a pretty funny ad you sent, and given the difficulty of starting a gasoline-fueled car, I can see the angle.  But a lot of what is in that ad is still true today — ‘no dirt, no grease, no noise, no vibration.’

“Finally, since I can’t talk about cars without mentioning Porsche

“Ferdinand Porsche invented what a lot of people call the world’s first hybrid — the Lohner-Porshe — in 1899.  It was essentially an electric vehicle with 4 small electric motors — one in each wheel hub — and a down-sized battery-pack with a combustion engine acting as a generator to keep the battery charged.

“With the exception of the four individual hub-motors, this is the same setup that series hybrids like the Chevy Volt will have.”

So there you have it!  What we might think are revolutionary technologies to solve today’s emissions problems actually has century-old origins.  And for those of us who aren’t grease monkeys, guys and gals alike, that “clean, quiet, easy to drive” sales pitch just might work.

For more shop talk, battery baffles, and electric-car boogies, check out Dave at That Car Blog.

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