First Electric Car: Tracing the History of Electric Vehicles

The first electric car dates back to the early 1800s, and since then, there have been gasoline-powered cars taking over the industry. Modern electric vehicles emerged again in the late 20th century due to climate change concerns and the oil crisis.

First Electric Car

With the electric car history, you can see how much the industry has grown and its re-emergence, especially with the development of hybrid vehicles. In this article, we will trace the first EV and other important aspects of its history.

What Is the Very First Electric Vehicle?

The very first electric vehicle was made in 1834 by Thomas Davenport. He made an electric motor and electric vehicle, which was a small locomotive constructed with a pivot, a battery and two electromagnets. But the material for Davenport’s EV was too expensive to be practical.

Around the 1830s, there were other electric car inventors. This includes Robert Anderson of Scotland, who designed an electric carriage between 1832 and 1839. The carriage was powered by non-rechargeable primary power cells. Also, Sibrandus Stratingh was a Dutch inventor who built the electromagnetic cart in the 1830s.

The first practical EV was invented in 1884, and this is usually credited to be the first electric car. This was done by Thomas Parker, a British inventor, in 1884. He is also known for electrifying the London Underground, or the Tube, and was focused on fuel-efficient vehicles due to the pollution in London.

Although there were other early electric vehicles made by inventors like Gaston Plante, Anyos Jedlik, and William Morrison, Thomas Parker’s car was more practical and could be mass-produced. Parker made different models of cars and even drove one to work despite the Light Locomotive Act. He even added hydraulic brakes and four-wheel steering.

  • The First Electric Car in the United States

The first electric car in the United States that was more practical was built by William Morrison in 1887. He was an American chemist that lived in Des Moines, Iowa.

First Electric Car in United States

His vehicle was a horse-drawn Surrey carriage that was converted to fit a battery. It offered a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour and could fit up to 12 people.

  • The First Electric Sports Car

AC Propulsion was the first electric sports car that was founded by Alan Cocconi in California. In 1992, he created an EV with 201 horsepower, a 150 kW electric motor and lead acid batteries. Cocconi provided GM with the ideas for the Impact concept and EV1 too.

History of Early Electric Vehicles

The invention of early electric cars even predated our standard gasoline cars, as in the late 1800s, most cars were powered by steam. Around 40 percent of cars were powered by steam, while 38 percent were electric automobiles. Only 22 percent of these cars were powered by gasoline, which shows that they were less popular.


Many people began replacing their horses and carts with motorized vehicles powered by steam, electricity and gasoline. Steam engines became even more popular by the 1870s and took over the US market, but they reduced in popularity by the early 1900s.

This is because steam vehicles could take up to 45 minutes to start, and they had to be refilled with water continuously. This showed that steam was not ideal for vehicles, but it seemed like the internal gas engine was.

  • Internal Combustion Engines

Gasoline-powered cars have their roots in internal gas engines, which were developed around the same time that William Morrison invented the electric vehicle. Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler invented the first combustion engine automobiles in 1886.

Internal Combustion Engines

Gasoline cars were not popular because they required a hard start, as you needed to change the gears and use a heavy hand crank. The engine was noisier than steam and electric vehicles, and it also emitted a lot of pollutants.

When you compare electric vehicles with the other two vehicles, EVs are a more popular and competitive option. They didn’t have long startup times, were quieter and easy to drive, and didn’t emit unpleasant pollutants. EVs were popular in urban areas, especially since more homes gained access to electricity.

But electric automobiles became less popular from the 1910s to 1970s because internal gas engines were mass-produced. Ford released Model T, making gas cars widely affordable. Gas also became readily cheap and available. Over the next three decades, electric vehicles stunted in their development as gas-powered cars took the lead.

  • Hybrid Cars

The first hybrid EV in the world is the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, which was powered by electricity in a battery and a gas engine. It was created by Ferdinand Porsche, who is the founder of Porsche. The popularity of EVs caught the idea of different inventors aside from Porsche.

Thomas Edison partnered with Henry Ford, a friend and former employee, to build an affordable electric automobile, but hybrid vehicles became less popular once gasoline became more available and Ford released a cost-efficient series of vehicles.

The Rise of Electric Cars from the 1970s

EVs started to come back in the 1970s when oil prices and gasoline shortages increased, especially with the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. Automakers started to consider alternatives like electric cars. For instance, General Motors designed a prototype for an urban electric vehicle.

But there was a lack of public interest in EVs compared to gas cars. They have slow speeds and limited range that deterred the interest of customers. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, automotive manufacturers modified popular models of their cars to make them into electric automobiles.

The manufacturers focused on improving the battery power in electric automobiles in order to increase the speed and range of EVs that could meet gas-powered cars. There was a huge turning point when the Toyota Prius was released. This was the first mass-produced electric vehicle that was released in 1997.

By 2000, when the Prius was released globally, it was very successful. It became the best-selling hybrid car worldwide due to high gasoline prices and carbon pollution. The 2023 Prius is powered by a 194-hp hybrid setup with a 2.0-liter hybrid inline-four gasoline engine with standard front-wheel drive.

  • General Motors EV1

General Motors invented the EV1, a pioneering vehicle that was designed with extra features like keyless ignition, regenerative braking, low-rolling resistant tires and a heat pump in the HVAC. Only about 1,000 EV1 vehicles were produced as production ended in 1999. After discontinuation, almost all EV1s were crushed or shredded, with a few given to schools.

General Motors EV1 Review

The EV1 was an electric automobile produced from 1996 to 1999, and it was the first GM car designed to be an EV. It is also the first mass-produced and purpose-designed electric vehicle from a major car manufacturer.

General Motors decided to mass produce the EV after it received positive reviews on the Impact Electric concept car. This inspired the EV1, which was mostly available through lease-only agreements. The EV1 was discontinued when GM stated that it could not sell enough of the cars to make a profit.

The GM EV1 was also documented in a 2006 documentary film called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” The film accounts for the efforts of General Motors to release its EV, but there was no demand for its product. GM also stated multiple reasons why the EV1 was not commercially viable, especially since it was hard to find parts for the car.

Car Manufacturers Going Electric

Since the 2000s arrived, car manufacturers have focused on making their vehicles electric, starting with Tesla. Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard founded Tesla Motors in 2003 after recording impressive growth in lithium-ion battery capacity. Then by 2006, it announced its luxury electric sports car, which could go over 200 miles on a single charge.

The success of the Tesla model opened up the market, causing other auto manufacturers to release their own EVs. Nissan released the LEAF in 2010, which was a zero-emission, all-EV that became a top-selling EV in the world.

Around this time, manufacturers had access to better battery technology which was also cheaper, so consumers did not have to shy away from electric automobiles due to cost because they became more affordable. Even the cost of lithium-ion batteries has declined by over 97 percent since 1991.

Since most car manufacturers have gone electric, many have stopped building internal combustion cars. Passenger electric vehicles have become more popular over time as manufacturers, consumers and governments see the EV as playing a significant role in the future.

  • Growth of Electric Cars

Electric vehicles have grown in the 2000s over time, not only in the United States but around the world.

Growth of Electric Cars

Here are some statistics on the growth of EVs:

  • The number of electric cars on the road has significantly increased from one million in 2016 to currently 26 million in the whole world.
  • In 2022, the sales of electric automobiles increased by 60 percent from 2021, with a record of 10.6 million.
  • More than 14 percent of the cars sold in 2022 were electric.
  • Tesla models are the most valuable electric automobiles in the world, which even made the CEO, Elon Musk, the richest man on the planet.
  • China has the largest number of EVs, but Europe has the largest market for electric vehicles.
  • Norway has the highest EV penetration in the world, and the country has almost completely stopped using gas-powered vehicles. Almost 80 percent of the new cars sold in the country are electric.
  • It is expected that the automotive market will go electric by 2035 as gas-powered cars are being phased out.

What Is the Future of Electric Automobiles?

The future of electric automobiles is expected to grow tremendously, as most countries are focused on sustainable development. The number of EVs on the road has jumped considerably from one to ten million, and it is expected to grow even more in the future.

According to the International Energy Agency, it is expected that the global fleet of electric vehicles, aside from two-wheelers and three-wheelers, will grow from 30 million in 2022 to 240 million in 2030. This will come with a growth rate of 30 percent every year. However, this number would depend on government policies and legislation.

There were 10 million electric cars sold around the world in 2022, according to the Global Electric Vehicle Outlook. This number is expected to increase by 35 percent by 2023 to reach 14 million cars.

Every year, governments and businesses continue to focus on sustainable forms of transportation around the world. Countries like the UK, US, Canada and Japan are focusing on limiting gas-powered cars and improving the popularity of electric automobiles instead. This has also caused different auto manufacturers to go electric.

GM is planning to completely stop the sales of gas-powered cars, SUVs and vans by 2035. Other companies like Cadillac, Volkswagen, Honda, Volvo, Mercedes, Jaguar Land Rover and Mini have also announced their plans to stop making gas-powered vehicles. From the first EV until now, it seems like EVs will have a bright future.

Frequently Asked Questions

– What Is the First Fully Electric Car Made?

The first fully electric car ever made was made by William Morrison in 1890 to 1891 in Iowa, the United States. It is a six-passenger wagon capable of achieving up to 14 miles per hour. This car set the standard for the modern cars that we have today.

– How Long Will a Tesla Battery Last?

A Tesla battery will last between 300,000 and 500,000 miles. On a full charge, the Tesla battery can last up to 303 to 405 miles without running out. The battery is essential in an electric car, so it’s important to check how long it will last.

– What Was the Electric Car Made in 1996?

The electric car made in 1996 was General Motors EV1, which is the first mass-produced electric car, even released before famous options like Prius and Tesla. It could go from 0 to 60 miles in eight seconds. The car was discontinued due to a lack of interest from the public.

What Were the Earliest Electric Vehicles Like Compared to the First Muscle Cars?

Before the rise of muscle cars, the earliest electric vehicles marked a significant chapter in automotive history. While electric cars offered clean and quiet rides, their limited range and top speed made them less popular. On the other hand, the birth of muscle cars brought about powerful engines, offering impressive speed and performance. The juxtaposition between the history of muscle cars and the earliest electric vehicles showcases the remarkable evolution of the automobile industry over time.


In this guide, we have traced history from the first electric car in the early 1800s to the present day, with popular options like Tesla.

Here’s a summary of what we covered in this article:

  • The first electric car was made in 1834 by Thomas Davenport, who made a small locomotive, but it was too expensive for mass production.
  • The other first EVs made in the world were made by inventors like Thomas Parker,
  • William Morrison, Robert Anderson and Sibrandus Stratingh in the 1800s.
  • Electric cars were initially preferred to gas-powered and steam-powered vehicles because they were less noisy and cheaper to use.
  • The increase in gas prices by the 1970s improved the popularity of electric vehicles, and there was the release of the GM EV1, the first mass-produced EV.
  • EVs have become very popular since the first one was released, with Tesla being the most popular electric car released.

With our complete article on the first electric cars, you now understand the fascinating history of these vehicles. It’s clear that there isn’t a single first EV since different inventors were making electrically-powered cars and carts simultaneously in the 1800s, and now these cars have gained a lot of popularity with a focus on sustainable living.

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