The Detroit Electric Automobile
An electric car that can go over 200 miles on a single charge?
modern day miracle is this?
What if we told you that this modern day miracle is almost 100 years
old? How about a plug in electric car from the early 1900's?
In 1914 a Detroit Electric went 241 miles on a single charge setting a
new record! OK to reveal the truth behind that the battery maker Elwood T. Stretch
states the batteries used for this the range test were built for this
test with very thin plates that were no doubt ruined by the end of the test.
Also the car had a top speed of 25 MPH
and for these tests the cars were usually driven at about 12 MPH. Still, that was almost 100 years ago and the new electric cars can
go maybe 100 miles on a charge, on a good day, downhill, with a little
breeze and a nice smooth road. In 1914 they were traveling over a mix of dirt,
cobblestone, asphalt or more commonly in Detroit they were driving on wood roads
(see Detroit map here)
1922 Detroit Electric Model 90 at the 2014 Good-Guys Southwest Nationals in
Does this surprise you? Did you think electric cars are something new?
Did you know that it is reported that in the early 1900's there were
more electric cars on the road than gasoline powered explosion cars as
they were called. "There are hundreds of explosions going on every
minute in that gas engine, what if one of them goes wrong? Truth be told
the numbers are skewed due to a large number of electric taxies but the
fact that electric cars existed as far back as the 1800's. In fact the
first gas electric hybrid was released by Woods Motor Vehicle Company
way back in 1911. In 2012
Toyota was advertising "regenerative braking", regenerative
braking was first used as early as 1898 in Krieger cars
1922 Detroit Model 90
|This site is dedicated to the Detroit Electric Car and
to all other antique electric automobiles
1912 Detroit Electric at BC Hydro Stave Falls visitor center in Mission, British
Most people think that electric cars are a recent phenomenon. The truth is that
in the early 1900's the electric car was a common site on the American road.
Electric cars were used in a large part by women and doctors. Doctors needed a
car that they could get in and go and gasoline engines were not that easy to
start or reliable. Because hand cranking a car was difficult to say the least
and could be downright dangerous the electric cars were very popular with women.
In fact one of the downfalls of early electric cars is that they were thought of
as a women's car and men did not want to be seen driving them. In fact in the
latter years the cars were built with what looked like a radiator in front. An
example is the picture above of the 1912 Detroit at Stave Falls outside Mission
B.C. The real killer for the electric car was the invention of the electric starter or at
least the first practical one in 1911 by Charles F. Kettering of Dayton Electric
Laboratories (DELCO). It was first used in 1912 by Cadillac. It was rapidly
adapted by other mid to high priced brands as Kettering and Henry Leland (who
financed it along with ESB) felt it was too important to keep exclusive.
Interesting note: The expression that someone is "cranky" comes from trying to
start a crank car with out much success. When it would not start it was being
There were of course other factors in the demise of the electric car. The price
of a Detroit Electric in 1914 was about $2,650 and if you wanted to upgrade to
the Edison Nickel Iron batteries that went up about $600. At the same time you
could buy 2 new model T's for that same $600.
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford decided to work together to make the electric car
the main transportation in U.S.. Their goal was to have charging stations where
people could "fill up" their cars. In 1914 Edsel Ford was given the task of
looking into electric car production. He had two prototypes made with guidance
from Edison, but the concept was not developed. Henry's wife Clara refused to drive gasoline
cars or "explosion cars" as they were called (mostly by electric car salesman).
Henry bought Clara a new Detroit Brougham every two years from 1908 to 1914.
Ford Museum owns that last car and a 1922 that was donated later. Her 1914 model 47 resided at Fair Lane from 1914 thru the 1930's. There is 1
1915 currently on display at the Ford museum in Detroit. The 1915 is on loan and
belonged to Helen Joy, the wife of a Packard executive. Henry Ford was
reportedly quoted saying that he would die a failure if he did not die broke and
planned on spending his fortune to make the electric car the mainstay of
American transportation. There are stories of mysterious fires at Edison's
laboratories and the impression is that these were caused by the early oil
cartels. Whether that is true or not I have no idea, other stories say the fire
was mostly in an adjacent building and battery production was not significantly
affected. No proof can be found to show any evidence that oil companies or other
car companies had anything to do with the demise of the electric car. In fact
the Rockefellers and others were buying them for their own use.
I purchased a 1914 Detroit Electric model 43 in the fall of 2006. This classic
antique electric car has been on blocks since 1947. I will post pictures of the
restoration as soon as I truly get started. At this point I am focusing on
acquiring the missing parts from my 1914 Detroit Electric. The car is actually
pretty darn complete. It is missing the two carriage lights as well as the two
headlights. One of the front side windows (the curved ones) is broken and the
lower section of the windshield is missing. Externally that is about all that is
missing but of course it needs some TLC and then some paint. On the inside the
volt amp gauge is missing as is the bud vase and the light bulbs (and covers if
they had them). Other than that the car is pretty complete. Of course the
interior is about as ratty as the paint but you can see the original material.
All of the mechanisms for the original roller blinds are still intact.
I will most likely be removing the body from the chassis and do a complete
restoration of both. Unless of course a good argument can be made for leaving
the original work in place. I would love the hear opinions before the work
Detroit Electric History
In 1907 the Anderson Carriage company produced their first
electric car. The Detroit Electric was rated at 80 miles per charge with the
record of over 211 miles on one charge. 100 years latter we have electric cars
that can go well over 100 miles on a charge. The early
electric car had a top speed of about 20 mph while today's electric cars can do over
The Anderson Carriage Company started producing carriages in
1884. They changed their name to the Anderson Electric Car Company in 1911. In
1920 the name was changed again this time to The Detroit Electric Car Company.
The company filed for bankruptcy after the stock market crash in 1929. A.O. Dunk
bought out the company and kept it alive until a few years after his death in
1936. During this time the company built cars by order only. The last Detroit
Electric was shipped on 2/23/39
I want to thank Galen Handy for some corrections to
information that was on this page