Edison and a 1914 Detroit Electric model 47 (courtesy of the National Museum of American History)
An EV and an antique car on display at a 1912 auto show Electric motive power started in 1827, when Hungarian priest Ányos Jedlik built the first crude but viable electric motor, provided with stator, rotor and commutator, and the year after he used it to power a tiny car. A few years later, in 1835, professor Sibrandus Stratingh of University of Groningen, the Netherlands, built a small scale electric car and a Robert Anderson of Scotland is reported to have made a crude electric carriage sometime between the years of 1832 and 1839. Around the same period, early experimental electrical cars were moving on rails, too. American blacksmith and inventor Thomas Davenport built a toy electric locomotive, powered by a primitive electric motor, in 1835. In 1838, a Scotsman named Robert Davidson built an electric locomotive that attained a speed of four miles per hour (6 km/h). In England a patent was granted in 1840 for the use of rails as conductors of electric current, and similar American patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in 1847.
Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
The first mass-produced electric vehicles appeared in America in the early 1900s. In 1902, “Studebaker Automobile Company” entered the automotive business with electric vehicles, though it also entered the gasoline vehicles market in 1904. However, with the advent of cheap assembly line cars by Ford, electric cars fell to the wayside.
Due to the limitations of storage batteries at that time, electric cars did not gain much popularity, however electric trains gained immense popularity due to their economies and fast speeds achievable. By the 20th century, electric rail transport became commonplace. Over time their general-purpose commercial use reduced to specialist roles, as platform trucks, forklift trucks, ambulances, tow tractors and urban delivery vehicles, such as the iconic British milk float; for most of the 20th century, the UK was the world’s largest user of electric road vehicles.
Electrified trains were used for coal transport, as the motors did not use precious oxygen in the mines. Switzerland’s lack of natural fossil resources forced the rapid electrification of their rail network. One of the earliest rechargeable batteries – the nickel-iron battery – was favored by Edison for use in electric cars.
EVs were among the earliest automobiles, and before the preeminence of light, powerful internal combustion engines, electric automobiles held many vehicle land speed and distance records in the early 1900s. They were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and others, and at one point in history out-sold gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, in 1900, 28 percent of the cars on the road in the USA were electric. EVs were so popular that even President Woodrow Wilson and his secret service agents toured Washington, DC, in their Milburn Electrics, which covered 60–70 mi (100–110 km) per charge.
A number of developments contributed to decline of electric cars. Improved road infrastructure required a greater range than that offered by electric cars, and the discovery of large reserves of petroleum in Texas, Oklahoma, and California led to the wide availability of affordable gasoline/petrol, making internal combustion powered cars cheaper to operate over long distances. Also internal combustion powered cars became ever easier to operate thanks to the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1912, which eliminated the need of a hand crank for starting a gasoline engine, and the noise emitted by ICE cars became more bearable thanks to the use of the muffler, which Hiram Percy Maxim had invented in 1897. As roads were improved outside urban areas electric vehicle range could not compete with the ICE. Finally, the initiation of mass production of gasoline-powered vehicles by Henry Ford in 1913 reduced significantly the cost of gasoline cars as compared to electric cars.
In the 1930s, National City Lines, which was a partnership of General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California purchased many electric tram networks across the country to dismantle them and replace them with GM buses. The partnership was convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of equipment and supplies to their subsidiary companies, but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the provision of transportation services.
(As on Wikipedia)