The Journey to Limelight of Electrically Powered Vehicles in the US

The use of electricity to power vehicles in the world can be dated back to as far as the 19th century. A lot of people made tremendous contributions to the development of this kind of vehicle. Around this time, there were other means of powering vehicles which include the use of steam and fuel (coal, gasoline, etc.) which have gained prominence in the world today. The electric cars at this time were very slow and they could only work for a limited time due to the capacity of the batteries used at that time. Some could only travel a few miles and a few hours.

Before its acceptance in the US, it was already widespread in the UK and in France with so much improvement because better durable batteries were made and its speed had improved. It was until about 15 years after that the US accepted it. The first in the US was by William Morrison. It was 6-carriaged, with a speed of about 14 mph in 1890. By 1897, through the “Electric Vehicle Company,” the electric car had started to gain prominence in the US as it was used as cabs in New York, with about 62 electric cabs during that period.


Because of some limitations in the batteries used at that time, i.e., early 20th century, the top speed of these early electric vehicles was limited to about 20 mph; but, it still earned the consumers’ preference because of some advantages it had over the other vehicles. It didn’t have vibrations, bad smell and an awful noise as can be attributed to gasoline cars.

They were also very easy to operate and they didn’t require much to start up, unlike their competitors – steam vehicles which usually took about 45 minutes to start up on cold mornings; and gasoline cars which featured a hand crank to start the engine. Because of the ease of operation of Electric cars, it was accepted widely by women in the US and was even tagged the women’s car.

When power supply became better 1912, there came a surge in the popularity of electric cars so much that it grew to a 38% use among all other types of vehicles. A total of about 34,000 electric cars were registered in the US. In the early 1920’s, the electric cars in the US began to suffer a rapid decline in its use, owing to some factors highlighted below:

  • Good road infrastructures which now required vehicles that could travel faster and for longer periods. Electric cars couldn’t stand this test as they were slow with their maximum speed of about 20 mph, and they couldn’t travel more than 60 miles or thereabout.
  • The discovery of large oil reserves in the world made fuel readily available and cheap. It now became a cheaper means to power vehicle using fuels which could even travel faster and longer.
  • Gasoline cars became even easier to operate. The hand crank which was a difficult way of starting fuelled-vehicles was replaced with an electric starter by Charles Kettering; and the noise from ICE cars became more tolerable as mufflers were used, which Percy Maxim had invented in 1897.
  • The mass production of fuelled-vehicles by Henry Ford during that period made the price of gasoline cars affordable, up to half the price of electric cars.

Consequently, these led to a drop in the demand for electric cars, leading to many of such companies being closed or converted. Only a few electric vehicles such as the milk floats in the US were still functioning.

Looking through these facts, it would seem as though electric cars would never gain prominence again in the US and even in the world at large. But, nature has its way of recycling, bringing old methods to limelight. Such is the case of the electric cars in the US today. The recent problem of global warming, a result of greenhouse gases from fuel combustion, has called the attention of the world to save our crashing Earth. One way this would be achieved is by curbing the use of fuelled-vehicles.

The US has from the 1990’s, made remarkable advancements in the design and improvement of electric cars. During this period, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), began an advocacy for more fuel-efficient, lower-emissions vehicles, with the ultimate goal being a move to zero-emissions vehicles such as electric vehicles.

From December 2016’s analysis, about 2 million electric vehicles are used all around the world, an amount of 0.2% in comparison with non-electric vehicles. America recorded an amount of 570,000 electric cars. It is said that US citizens want zero or low-emission vehicles, and it is only a matter of time for electric cars to gain prominence again, may be permanently this time.


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him. Follow him on Facebook here.