CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world.


Cars detroit electric

Published on April 11th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan

17

Henry Ford’s Wife Wouldn’t Drive Ford Model T, Kept Her Electric Car

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

April 11th, 2014 by Zachary Shahan
 
detroit electricTo many, electric cars are a completely new thing. However, they actually have a long history in the United States. For some time, they were the top dog. However, due to battery limitations many decades ago, they got replaced with gasmobiles.

With recent advancements, electric cars are back. But it’s important to note that many of their key benefits are the same today as they were back in the early 20th century.

For example, they are much simpler, cleaner, safer, and nicer to drive. Henry Ford’s wife knew this, as did many women of the early 20th century. Clara Ford apparently wouldn’t drive the Model T. She stuck to her electric car instead, a 1914 Detroit Electric. Here’s more from TIME magazine, via the GM-Volt forum:

Girls dig electric cars. At least that was the marketing message back in 1915, when petrol-powered autos were beginning to decisively pull away from electric ones. Battery-powered vehicles retained popularity among female drivers in cities, who valued them for their reliability — they wouldn’t blow up, as gas cars were known to do on occasion — and ease of use. Clara Ford, wife of Henry, whose Model T all but decimated the electric car, drove a 1914 Detroit Electric. (What her husband made of the fact that she wasn’t driving a Ford is lost to history.) The Detroit models could run 80 miles on a single charge, with a top speed of about 20 mph. Pokey, but this was before the age of Danica Patrick.

The thing that shocks me a bit is that Detroit models had a range of about 80 miles per charge. And how about that fancy technological advancement known as regenerative braking? Developed about 100 years ago?!

But apparently 80 miles wasn’t the max back then, far from it. Here’s more info, from DetroitElectric.org, via the GM-Volt forum:

An electric car that can go over 200 miles on a single charge? What modern day miracle is this? What if we told you that this modern day miracle is almost 100 years old? How about a plug in electric car from the early 1900′s? In 1914 a Detroit Electric went 241 miles on a single charge setting a new record! To be fair the car had a top speed of 25 MPH but that was almost 100 years ago and the new electric cars can go maybe 100 miles on a charge, on a good day, downhill, with a little breeze and a nice smooth road. In 1914 they were traveling over dirt roads or maybe at best cobblestone.

In 2012 Toyota was advertising “regenerative braking”, the Detroit Electric started using that in 1915…. The real killer for the electric car was the invention of the electric starter or at least the first working one in 1911 by Charles F. Kettering of Dayton Electric Laboratories (DELCO). It was first used in 1912 by Cadillac.


And here’s even more on the subject, from The New York Times, via the GM-Volt forum:

Well-dressed society women could simply drive to lunch, to shop, or to visit friends without fear of soiling their gloves, mussing their hair or setting their dresses on fire.

“These were women’s shopping cars,” said Mr. Leno, who is a serious hands-on collector of autos and motorcycles dating from the 1800s to the present. “There was no gas or oil, no fire, no explosions — you just sort of got in and you went. There were thousands of these in New York, from about 1905 to 1915. There were charging stations all over town, so ladies could recharge their cars while they were in the stores.”

A cleaner ride. A smoother ride. A safer ride. No oil, no grease, no gasoline. These same benefits exist again today. Got an electric?

Image: 1912 Detroit Electric via DetroitElectric.org

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

Print Friendly

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

Tags: , , , , , , ,


About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • timbuck93

    It’s the same reason everyone hasn’t gone solar for their homes or businesses.

    The oil companies seriously need to be taken down — here’s a ….(I’ll let you decide the adjective, because I’m pissed off) bit of history

    In 2004 the EV1, and I can’t remember who made it, was LITERALLY CRUSHED AND SHREDDED, and everyone who owned one had their vehicles taken away. If that’s not fucked up, then I don’t know what is.

  • Red Sage

    That’s a really good article. Thanks!

  • Peter Miller

    Hi Zach:
    Interesting research but I think that you should credit the detroitelectric.org website for a large section of your text i.e.
    “An electric car that can go over 200 miles on a single charge? What modern day miracle is this? What if we told you that this modern day miracle is almost 100 years old? How about a plug in electric car from the early 1900′s? In 1914 a Detroit Electric went 241 miles on a single charge setting a new record! To be fair the car had a top speed of 25 MPH but that was almost 100 years ago and the new electric cars can go maybe 100 miles on a charge, on a good day, downhill, with a little breeze and a nice smooth road. In 1914 they were traveling over dirt roads or maybe at best cobblestone.”
    [Extract from http://www.detroitelectric.org/index.htm

    • Bob_Wallace

      You mean Zach should have included something like “Here’s more info, from DetroitElectric.org, via the GM-Volt forum:”

      Right before the quoted part which is set in italics and starts “An electric car that can go over 200 miles on a single charge? What modern day miracle is this?”

    • evman

      At a slow speed a Tesla Model S can get almost 425 miles on a single charge. Check out the link http://jalopnik.com/5968208/how-to-get-a-tesla-to-go-425-miles-on-a-single-charge-go-slow

  • Wayne Williamson

    This is such a cool article, Thanks Zachary. I think that we need to be reminded of how/when/where things happened.

  • Chris_in_Raleigh

    Cool bit of history.

    Curious… why does the Detroit Electric pictured have what looks like a radiator in the front? (doubt they had A/C at the time).

    At that time, I wouldn’t think it important to make an electric car look like a gas car (or should I say “gasmobile”? Why do you write “electric car”, but “gasmobile”, anyway? :-) )

    • Ronald Brakels

      Good question, but I would guess it’s just a grill to let the air in and cool the electric motor and not an actual radiator.

    • Benjamin Nead

      I’m not sure why this particular Detroit Electric has such a large grill, but it might simply have more to do with fashion than anything else. Note that other Detroit Electric models from that same general time period had no grill . . .

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1915_Detroit_Electric.jpg

      . . . and, with the size of batteries back then (Edison Nickel Iron cells, etc), it’s basically all that was under the hood . . .

      http://i821.photobucket.com/albums/zz139/Ojibwa/Hood%20River/Cars%20early/DSCN0848_zpsca60968e.jpg

      One can assume the electric motor would have been small enough – even in that day – to have it tucked down low between the frame ladders and near the rear wheels.

      Regarding fashion: remember that quite a few cars well into the 1920s had buggy whip holders, which would have been useless ornamentation by then. Although most electric cars produced today use liquid cooled AC motors and many also have a liquid cooled thermal management for the battery pack, the size of the radiators dwarf what is needed for an internal combustion engine.

      Yet it is the grill-less Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi I-MiEV that look unconventional when compared to the grilled Ford Focus EV and Tesla Model S. It might take a few more years before we completely acclimate to most electric cars having a grill-less front.

  • Matt

    Weight a T and a current mid-size car. That and speed will give you a hint where the range came from. The 1912 DE for sure wasn’t aerodynamic.

  • bussdriver78

    SPEED takes additional energy. We pay a great price in energy consumption for the speed we demand to save us that oh so precious time so we can then blow it away watching TV… assuming we are alive when 40k die yearly due to the speed of our cars. Limit people to 20mph and the reality is we’d be 100s of times greener and possibly our lives would be better too. Nobody honestly wants to think about it. Horses went about 20mph.

    Just think of wind resistance; it’s a cubic function! At 55mph, you put more energy into pushing wind than moving the car! (one reason Carter picked that cap.) At 110mph it’s not twice as much work to push wind, IT IS v^3, to the third power more work!

    robot cars, mass transit… could all be 20mph, since you are going to sit and play on your phone for hours a day anyway.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act in 1974, limiting highway speeds to 55. It was largely ignored, cutting fuel use by only 0.5% to 1%.

      But I get your point.

      The real solution – quit using petroleum.

      Put people in EVs. Let them drive as fast as they wish (within safe limits) with renewable energy.

      • wattleberry

        This is how I’m thinking with nuclear and all this base load fuss-let’s just leave nuclear out of the mix and we’ll still deal with it.

    • Red Sage

      National Speed Limit: 21 MPH
      National Drinking Age: 55

      Sorted!
      ;-)

  • Jimbo Jones

    The model T had a hand crank starter that required a strong left arm to start.

  • Offgridmanpolktn

    If not for the greed of the fossil fuel seller’s. Can you imagine how clean and quiet our cities and highways could be? Think of the difference in our society if as much effort that has been put into developing ICE vehicles and raping the earth for every last drop of oil had instead gone towards improving all types of electric powered transportation and the means of supplying them renewably.

Back to Top ↑