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The first electric car I ever experienced

Discussion in 'Electric Vehicles' started by jbcarioca, Jun 26, 2016.

  1. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    12-Baker_Electric_Spcl_Cpe_DV-07-MB_01.jpg

    When I was quite young, in late 1959, I met a man and wife who collected old cars. I was a car nut of the first order, and noticed two things, one a new Chrysler 300F and the other a Packard Twin Six. When I looked closer a saw a dozen cars, including one just like this one (given the Michigan 1912 plate it might actually be this one).

    The Baker Electric was used as a daily driver by the lady. It had the original Thomas Edison-designed batteries which still worked well and had a range of about 40 miles or so. I rode in it numerous times and was actually permitted to drive it once, but only within their yard. That was exciting enough for the 14 year-old-me (BTW, I actually had a legal driving license; Michigan issued 'farm licences' to 14-year-olds at the time). From that time I was always a fan of electric power.

    As a note, not only did Edison design the batteries but one of these was his first car and one also was in the White House fleet. Sadly, production ended in 1914.
     
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  2. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    My great uncle bought and restored a ~1908 Baker Electric Runabout around 1960 and occasionally drove it to work in San Diego. I don't have a picture of his actual car handy but it looked like this:

    image.jpeg


    Somewhere I have a picture of myself as an infant sitting in the car with my parents in the mid-60's after we had taken a ride around the neighborhood.
     
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  3. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    The Runabout was the most popular version followed by the "doctor's coupe" which was the version my friend had. The only difference between the "doctor's coupe" and the ordinary one was a cutout sized to hold the old-fashioned doctor's bag". I only know that because my friend used hers to shop for groceries, at which I helped her as often as I could, and the cutout nicely held a big supermarket bag,:)

    You are the only person I have encountered who'd even heard of a Baker. The 1908 was about the earliest IIRC that had the Edison batteries. Do you recall if your great uncle used the original batteries?

    Just as an additional curiosity, Edison used the same batteries to power his electric boat that he used for years at his Fort Myers, FL winter home. He did not use the Baker there, since Henry Ford, his friend and neighbor, supplied the cars.
     
  4. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    I'm not sure, although I vaguely remember hearing about it using lead acid batteries. Are you saying that models prior to about 1908 would have had lead acid batteries as original equipment?

    I found an old photo of him driving it in to work at the naval base there. The picture was taken at the entrance guard post. A notation says it was actually a 1905 Baker.

    image.jpeg
     
  5. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    All the Baker batteries were lead-acid IIRC. However, sometime around 1904 or so, Edison decided he wanted one, and designed the batteries that became Baker standard. I once knew more, but have forgotten and the searches I make now have little detail. I think most Bakers may have been retrofitted with the Edison batteries. They were lead-acid, circular, and very robust. You can see them today in both the Edison Laboratories in New Jersey as well as in Fort Myers.

    Those batteries scaled up and updated, IIRC, became the basis for the huge 2v/200ah cells AT&T used for remote repeater sites. In the early 1990's those were sold as surplus and used as the storage for solar power installations in houses. In the early 1990's I actually bought 36 of them to use as the storage for a solar installation I made in a remote island I owned in the Bahamas. They worked perfectly for more than a decade when I sold the island. Since each cell weighed >330 pounds they were difficult to move. A couple of years ago I spoke with the caretaker there who told me they were still being used.

    The one thing that is great about old-fashioned large format lead-acid batteries is that they last for a very, very long time so long as they are regularly charged, balanced (that is basically bashing on the sides of the cells to make sure the acid is evenly distributed), and equalised (by overcharging all the cells to reach even voltage in each cell. The original Edison cells were much much smaller but were chemically quite similar. Cells of similar structure and chemistry are still in production.
     
  6. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    The Edison battery was Nickel Iron and didn't contain any lead as far as I know.

    Nickel–iron battery - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
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  7. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    Yes, you are obviously correct. I was confusing the later AT&T cells with the original Edison cells. The later AT&T cells were lead-acid because it was much cheaper, and Edison did use and refine some fo them despite his role promoting. Nickel Iron. Thanks for correcting my errors.:oops: I knew better, so I'm doubly embarrassed.
     
  8. Jeff N

    Jeff N Active Member

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    I've never seen those original batteries in person. Thanks for the idea of visiting the Edison Labs in NJ. I'm putting that on my list of places to visit.
     
  9. MacroP

    MacroP Member

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    For those interested, I saw a while back on the jay Leno YouTube channel that he is restoring an old Detroit electric of similar vintage to the Baker. I think the Detroit also may have used the Edison nickel iron batteries at some stage in its production life. His Detroit is getting a slight upgrade in its restoration program and getting the powertrain and battery from a Nissan Leaf I believe. Can't wait for his updates.
     

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