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If You Thought Electric Cars Were New, You Thought Wrong

Even Iron Man drives an electric vehicle.

Dan Duddy
August 06 2021

Iron Man. Iron Man drives an electric vehicle.

The car driven by Tony Stark in Avengers Endgame: Audi

We shouldn’t need more to prove that electric vehicles have become the latest avatars of future tech, but here a couple more signs anyway: They promise to be one of the solutions to our impending climate crisis. They’re cool, sleek, and gaining ubiquity like smartphones in the early aughts. They’re being pioneered by Elon Musk, the quintessential tech Billionaire himself. If life were a movie, a closeup of the Tesla 2021 Model 3 would be the last shot we saw before fading to a city overrun by electric cars with the overlaying text reading “America - 2041.” 

And because of all of these strong connotations to the future, you might be shocked to learn that electric vehicles are actually a relic of the past. In fact, their history pretty much runs in step with gas powered cars and with some features even predating their dino-juice guzzling brethren. The first crude electric vehicle was invented in 1832 and by 1870 there were practical electric powered cars dotting English and American roads. Electric vehicles even held the land speed record up until the 1900s.

Electric car built in 1895: Wiki Commons

It was only until Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T that electric cars fell off the map.  Until that time the 19th century was actually a three-way fight for supremacy between gas, electric, and steam. Each had their pros and cons, with electric finding a niche for all the reasons it still does today – they're quiet, easy to drive, and don’t spray noxious gas into anyone’s face as you drive it.  

They also had other advantages for the time. Gas and steam powered cars would vibrate as you drove them like they were addled with meth. Electric hummed along smoothly and didn’t even require gear changes, something that would plague gas vehicles until the 1930s. 

But none of that was enough to stave off Ford and his gosh darn assembly line. By 1912 gas powered cars were able to be sold for only $650, while an electric roadster clocked in at  $1,750, nearly three times the price. And then, that same year, Charles Kettering invented the electric starter, rendering the hand crank unnecessary for gas powered vehicles (one of their fatal flaws), further sending gasoline-powered vehicle sales through the roof. 

However, with the US Senate recently revealing their bipartisan 2,700-page, $1 trillion infrastructure bill that will, amongst many other things, promise to build a national network of 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles across the United States (to put this in perspective, that’s more charging stations than we currently have gas stations) electric cars might be having the last laugh. It’s a war they’ve been losing for the past 200 years, but as the maxim goes, “slow, silent, electric, and steady may very well win the race.”  

Dan is the Senior Director of Editorial at theTUNDRA. Follow Dan on Twitter to learn more about his upcoming projects.



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