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Early Electric Cars in America (1891-1922): Topics in Chronicling America

Along with gasoline-powered automobiles, the early 20th century also saw the rise of electric automobiles. This guide provides access to material related to "Early Electric Cars" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

Photograph of an Electric Studbaker. December 17, 1910. Goodwin's Weekly: A Thinking Paper for Thinking People (Salt Lake City, UT), Image 61. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“Good Bye, Horses!” In 1891, the first American electric vehicle was developed, providing a clean, quiet, easy alternative to horses and to other horseless vehicles. By 1897, electric cabs were operating in New York and Europe, and soon after electric autos were marketed, often particularly to women and the wealthy. Electric cars competed successfully in the early 20th century until several innovations, including the electric starter in gasoline-powered cars and the discovery of inexpensive sources of oil, rendered them obsolete. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

1891 William Morrison from Des Moines, Iowa develops a six-passenger electric wagon that is often considered the first practical electric vehicle in the United States.
1892-1896 Electric cars become increasingly popular.
1897 First 12 electric cabs operate in New York City.
1897-1913 Electric cars compete with gasoline-powered cars.
1914-1935 Sales of electric cars decline with the eventual disappearance of the cars from the market, fully replaced by gasoline-powered competitors.