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The Burden of History

Discussion in 'Roadster 2008-2012' started by tonybelding, Feb 26, 2007.

  1. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

    Aug 17, 2006
    Hamilton, Texas
    A couple days ago I got The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History by David A. Kirsh. The whole focus of the book is on the early history of electric vehicles and how they failed in competition against gasoline-powered cars. The gist of the book is that the triumph of gasoline internal combustion engines wasn't inevitable, it could have gone differently. If it had, our transportation network today would look a lot different.

    The books comes across a bit dry and stuffy, but still it's highly educational. One of the striking things is how similar many of the discussions and debates were around 1890-1915 to those of today. In some cases you could lift quotes from the car magazines of 100 years ago, writing about electric vehicles, and drop them verbatim into a modern blog, and nobody would bat an eye.

    That's particularly true when the subject is battery technology. Around 1900 electricity was the hot topic and everybody was manically optimistic that breakthroughs would soon make lead-acid batteries obsolete. A commonly repeated idea was that the demand for better batteries was so pressing, surely they must appear soon. Unfortunately, wishing didn't make it happen.

    In 1901 Thomas Edison announced a new super-battery that he thought would be perfect for electric cars. When he wasn't able to deliver on those promises, it was a huge setback. A lot of people held off from buying electrics because they were waiting for the super battery that never appeared. (This story immediately made me think about Eestor. At least Eestor are keeping quiet about their product.)

    There were some surprises. For example, Kirsch points out that the poor state of roads between cities in those early days actually helped electric cars. If roads outside of town were so awful that they were impassible to any kind of motor vehicle, then the longer range of gasoline cars became moot.

    The most interesting chapter to me was the one focused on electric touring, or what we today would call the road trip. I'll post some more about that later.

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