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5 instances that prove electric cars were never a 21st-century idea

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By Augustine Mbam - - 5 Mins Read
A vintage electric vehicle on display at the Concours D
Vintage electric car on display | Darren Brode / Shutterstock.

There has been a lot of debate surrounding the history of electric cars timeline.

Many people tend to believe that electric cars only emerged in the 21st century. However, it's worth noting that vintage electric cars existed in the 90s, long before the dawn of this century.

Electric cars have been around for quite some time, dating back to the 1830s. However, it wasn't until the first automobile exhibition show in America that they gained public recognition.

The doors of the New York Madison Square Garden opened on November 3, 1900, marking a significant moment in the timeline of electric cars.

The American Automobile Club, which was rapidly growing in popularity, sponsored the event that featured a competition between three different automobile technologies: the power stem, the internal combustion engine, and electricity.

160 automobiles were on display on the event day, and a full third of the exhibition was electric-powered. However, in 2023, electric cars only made up 7.6 percent of the cars on exhibition, which can back up the argument that the history of electric cars was truly in existence before the 21st century.

Below is a detailed history of electric cars timeline that further explains the evolution of electric vehicles:

  1. Robert Anderson (1832)

Robert Anderson created the first-ever electric car, which resembled a carriage. It was powered by electricity and did not require a horse. However, due to the limited efficiency of batteries during that era, Anderson's horseless carriage could not cover long distances or move at high speeds.

Although some argued that Anderson's invention did not meet the criteria for an electric car, according to Kevin A Wilson, the author of "Electric Cars Revolution," the invention was capable of moving itself. Thus, it qualifies as the first electric vehicle in the history of electric cars.

  1. Gaston Plante (1859)

Gaston Plante is credited with creating the next electric vehicle that used rechargeable batteries, marking the start of a significant advancement in battery technology.

Anderson's invention was limited in that the battery could only be charged once and disposed of, but Plante, a French chemist, invented a lead-acid battery that could be recharged and reused multiple times.


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Gaston's invention provided a more powerful battery and created new possibilities for battery recycling and recharging, which are still in use today. The 12V car battery is another example of the lead-acid battery that Gaston Plante invented.

  1. Camille Faure (1881)

It cannot be denied that Gaston's rechargeable lead-acid battery was a game-changer in the automobile world, but it was too bulky and heavy.

Camille Faure's invention was smaller and lighter. Faure was also a French chemist who crowned his skill in chemical engineering at an explosive factory.

Faure's battery was smaller yet more powerful. Charles Bush, an American inventor, also invented a similar version after Faure's invention.

  1. Carl Benz (1883)

Carl Benz is often credited with inventing the first electric automobile. In 1986, his gasoline-powered three-wheeled motor car made headlines.


Photo of the first automobile by Carl Benz
Carl Benz's first automobile | Mercedes Benz


However, there is a counter-argument to this claim. Wilson, for instance, believes that a French carriage maker named Charles Jeantaud should be given credit for creating an electric vehicle that was three years ahead of Benz's invention.

Jeantaud had been building electric carriages since 1983, but his invention didn't receive as much publicity as Benz's car. Despite this, Jeantaud's contribution to the history of electric cars cannot be ignored.

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  1. The First Electric Car Exhibition 

In 1893, America witnessed the first-ever display of open electric cars at the Chicago World Fair.

The event was a huge hit, with hordes of people flocking to catch a glimpse of the promising new mode of transportation.

William Morrison was behind the upscaled version of the electric power automobile, leaving Americans in awe.