38% Of American Cars Were Electric In 1900 – What about in the future?

In our modern era, we may assume that electric cars are new technology.  But there was a period in America a long time ago when about 30% of all cars were electric. 

Starting point of Electric Vehicle history

In 1898, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, when 23 years old, built his first car, and it was the Lohner Electric Chaise. Also in 1898, Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of Paris set a world speed record in a car, which happened to be in his electric Jeantaud. The speed record was 39.245 mph (62.8 km/h), but that was crushed a few days later by another electric car that went 65.79 mph (105.88 km/h).

First electric cars  (1830-1880)

By 1900, in the United States, 38% of US automobiles, 33,842 cars, were powered by electricity (40% were powered by steam, and 22% by gasoline). This information might sound like some crackpot Internet hoax, but if you look at the sources, you can easily see they are credible. The US Dept. of Energy’s page on the history of the electric car states, “By 1900, electric cars were at their heyday, accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road. During the next 10 years, they continued to show strong sales.” By 1912, there were 38,843 on US roads.

Horses, steam-powered cars, and gas-powered cars were also available at that time. Electric cars were appealing to some women who preferred the quieter rides and the fact that electric cars started very easily — there was no crank to push and pull like gasmobiles of the time had. Additionally, there was no smoke, there were no smelly fumes, and there was no gassing up. A New York Times article from about 1911 described this preference.

In around 1914, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were collaborating on an electric vehicle. “Within a year, I hope, we shall begin the manufacture of an electric automobile. I don’t like to talk about things which are a year ahead, but I am willing to tell you something of my plans. The fact is that Mr. Edison and I have been working for some years on an electric automobile which would be cheap and practicable.”

Unfortunately, if not tragically, this project fell by the wayside. One can only imagine what might have happened if Henry Ford had begun producing some simple, affordable electric cars along with the gasmobiles his company turned out in huge numbers. One of his experimental EVs actually used a Model T frame.

During this period, Edison was very enthusiastic about the potential of electric vehicles, “I believe that ultimately the electric motor will be universally used for trucking in all large cities, and that the electric automobile will be the family carriage of the future. All trucking must come to electricity. I am convinced that it will not be long before all the trucking in New York City will be electric.”

Electric Vehicle and Full of Fluctuations Journey

Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, actually preferred an EV over a Ford gasmobile. Her preferred brand seemed to be Detroit Electric.

History of Vehicles with the strong position of Electric Vehiclé

The 1914 electric Frichtle reportedly had a range of about 60–100 miles but also cost several times more than a Model T. It’s creator, Oliver Frichtle, drove one of his vehicles more than halfway across the country in one trip to prove that his technology was vigorous. “Fritchle drove the eighteen hundred miles between Lincoln and New York in twenty-nine days averaging close to ninety miles per battery charge across extremes in weather, terrain, and road conditions. The time included about twenty-one days of driving and eight for rest, sightseeing, and visits.”

1914 Detroit Electric Car

The trip covered muddy, rut-filled surfaces that were at times very difficult to drive on — ones that we might consider today as something similar to off-roading.

 Fritchle Electric Car

Frichtle’s car company was located in Denver and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown was both an owner/driver and a fan.

Here are just some of the electric cars that were available in the early 1900s.

A 1901 Baker Electric


A 1909 Babcock a New York-based car manufacturer produced it.

President Woodrow Wilson had a Milburn Electric for riding around in Washington, D.C.

Milburn Electric

His wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, liked electric cars too. According to the Library of Congress, she was the first woman to drive an electric car in the District of Columbia, a trip that took place in 1904. At that time, she was married to someone else, though. “The document indicates that Mrs. Galt was authorized to operate a vehicle of the ‘electric type.’ The cost of the vehicle amounted to $1600 in 1904 (equivalent to about $44,000 in 2017). This particular model was marketed to women and advertised as a carriage for ‘light pleasure service,’ ‘park riding,’ and ‘social functions.’ It would reach speeds of up to thirteen miles per hour and run for forty miles on a single charge.”

What about EV in the future?

Eventually, electric cars fell out of favor because gas mobiles cost less, the electric starter was invented, and gas and oil became cheap and plentiful, so affordable long-distance travel was made possible. However, there are many other reasons why electric cars are increasingly dominant over gasoline cars in the present and future.

Factors driving up consumer demand

Consumer demand for EVs has risen significantly over the past few years. The number of EVs on the road jumped from about 22,000 to a little over 2 million over the 2011–21 decade. (See chart 1.) Several factors are expected to continue to drive consumer demand for EVs over the 2021–31 decade: environmental concerns, greater vehicle choice, improved battery capacity, and cost savings.

A YouGov poll of drivers shows that the top reason for considering buying an EV was to protect the environment. Similarly, a survey from CarMax found that most car owners were concerned about fuel emissions and perceived the main advantage of EVs to be that they are good for the environment.

In addition, consumers can now choose from a wider range of vehicles, as manufacturers have introduced a greater variety of EV models into the market, including the much-preferred large-size vehicles. Up until recently, compact cars like sedans and hatchbacks were virtually the only EV options available, yet trucks and SUVs accounted for about 78 percent of new vehicle sales in the United States in 2021. Choice is only set to expand, with dozens of new models expected to debut by 2024.

Improved vehicle range is another factor that should encourage higher uptake of EVs. Range anxiety—the fear of running out of battery power before reaching a charging location—has long deterred consumers from purchasing an EV. However, battery capacity and range have greatly improved (from a median of 68 miles on a single charge in 2011 to 234 miles in 2021) and is expected to continue to increase with further advances in battery technology.

Furthermore, studies have found that switching to EVs saves consumers money, especially over the long run. For example, in addition to saving on fueling costs, EVs yield about $8,000 to $12,000 worth of savings on maintenance over the lifetime of the vehicle. Moreover, battery pack costs should continue to fall, bringing EV prices closer to those of conventional cars.

Government policies driving demand for electric vehicles

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November 2021, allocated $7.5 billion to building out a nationwide charging network. The funding has initially focused on installing fast chargers along the interstate highway system, which would help mitigate battery range fears and enable long-distance travel. The legislation also included large investments to upgrade the nation’s power grid—key for accommodating rising electricity demand as EV adoption grows—and to expand domestic battery production and recycling capacity. On the consumer side, tax credits spur demand. For instance, the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August 2022, extended a tax credit of up to $7,500 for the purchase of new EVs until 2032 and provided, for the first time, that tax credits could be used for purchasing used EVs.

State government policies also offer incentives, such as rebates, to encourage EV ownership by helping offset the high upfront costs of EVs. A number of states have also implemented a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) program, which requires auto manufacturers to sell a set quota of battery-electric or plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and have passed laws that ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

Automaker commitments to electric vehicles

Automakers have unveiled strategies to speed up the electrification of new cars and trucks. Most major companies plan to roll out dozens of new electric vehicle models over the next decade, are implementing electric vehicle sales targets, and committing to eventually end fuel-powered vehicle production. To achieve their electrification goals, automakers plan to invest billions of dollars over the next decade in research and development and building new manufacturing plants, particularly for battery production.

VinFast is also one of the very new electric vehicle manufacturing brands on the market. The appearance of VinFast – the first electric vehicle brand with all electric vehicle products spanning all segments has been bringing unprecedented diversity to the market and opening up for users un extremely freedom and wonderful choices and experiences.

Demand for EVs has grown significantly over the past decade thanks to heightened environmental concerns, greater availability of models, increased cost competitiveness with conventional gas vehicles, and improved vehicle ranges. Today, EVs have made a strong comeback with top-notch design and advanced technology. With the benefits it brings, the number of EVs running on US roads will soon surpass 30%. VinFast’s future development in the US can be described in one phase “SUSTAINABLE AND PROMISING”. Please accompany VFUS on the journey of bringing Vietnamese brands to conquer the US market.


Images Source: Public domain