Electrifying Times Book REView

"The Electric Car and the Burden of History:
Studies in the Automotive Systems Rivalry in America,
 by David A. Kirsch, Ph.D.

1997 Bob Wing

This history of EVs is a complete (325 page), scholarly but easy to read  reference.  It is a doctoral dissertation which I found it extremely interesting in the depth of coverage of electrical transportation especially in the early years before my time.

There is a discussion of the early choice of an automotive prime mover -- steam, gas or electric. For example, I did not know that the early steamers stopped frequently at horse water troughs for their water supply. But hoof-and-mouth disease started spreading and steamers had to add condensers on board to extend their water supply as farmers would no longer permit car owners to use horse watering troughs.

In the early years, hundreds of different motor vehicles were built powered by gasoline, electricity or steam. Although the last two showed early promise by 1910 gasoline was quickly recognized as the superior technology.
Kirsch says "Even as urban enthusiasts discussed the development of an "Electrant" -- a curbside electric hydrant that would dispense a set amount of electricity for a modest charge -- a technical report on the Madison Square Garden Auto Show in 1900 bemoaned the proliferation of plug designs. "  We have not learned much in 97 years with GM pushing the paddle and most other companies using the plug design which everybody knows how to use.

Battery exchange, which has been discussed and practiced for years, is another subject for frequent discussion  today. Kirsch writes "Only in 1912, when the Hartford Electric Light Company took the further step of offering battery service... all customers could exchange batteries to extend the range of their vehicles. The customers could swap discharged batteries for fresh ones as many times as needed, and at the end of the month, the battery service provider would bill the the customer for
electricity based on the number of miles traveled."

There is a chart showing  towns with generating stations willing to sell current to charge electric vehicles in the summer of 1897. From NYC (42nd Street) there were stations every 5 to 19 miles to Hartford CN, then 7 to 18 miles to Boston MA. There is no mention of the quality of the roadway.

History repeats itself as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has just issued a 40 page booklet with maps showing conductive 120V and 208V (some 240V) dual outlet charging stations in Sacramento County, one to 3 at public garages, 5 at the Sacramento International Airport, 16 at regional rapid transit stations and 36 at the McClelland AFB.  There is one inductive station at the Arden Fair Mall, more are planned later.

The section, "The 1960s:The Second Battle" covers the 1967 conference held at San Jose State College sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Engineer's Council and the IEEE on "The Electric Automobile: New Engineering Frontier." At the conclusion of the meeting, Walter Laski, a former Ford engineer,  asked for a show of hands of those interested in forming an ongoing organization dedicated to the development and enjoyment of electric vehicles. The EAA  (Electric Auto Association) was on its way.

William Palmer and John Newell joined this initial group founders of the EAA. Palmer, Newell and Wing, three of the five Directors on the EAA Board in 1992-3 were interviewed by David Kirsch. Newell  made his personal papers available and Wing his EV history library. In this dissertation there is an 11 page summary of the history of the EAA based on these interviews and personal papers.  Kirsch says "By the 1980s the (EAA) hobbyists were still the only people who regularly drove electric vehicles."

SAE or some other book publisher should pick up the option to print David Kirsch's thesis. This is a truly great  written history of EVs and will be in great demand for one's own library or in public libraries. After all, it has been already edited and in digital format, all SAE or some other publisher has to do is press a button and put it between hard covers.

David Kirsch is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Anderson Business School, at UCLA, Box 951481, Los Angeles CA 90095-1481

Look at Kirsch's web sites:

I recommend reading his his EV Pioneers section.