Electrobat! Is that not a great name? It belongs to the first commercially viable EV effort.

Philadelphians Pedro Salom and Henry G. Morris adapted technology from battery-electric street cars and boats and got a patent in 1894. At first very heavy and slow (like a trolley car, with steel “tires” and 1600 pounds of batteries onboard), their Electrobat [at left] evolved to employ pneumatic tires and lighter materials so that, by 1896, their rear-steer carriages used two 1.1-kW motors to move 25 miles at a top speed of 20 mph. Electrobats and another electric by Riker won a series of five-mile sprint races against gasoline Duryea automobiles in 1896.

Morris and Salom incorporated that year and moved on to the “cash-in” phase of a successful startup. Having built a few electric Hansom cabs to compete with the horse-drawn vehicles then serving New York, they sold that idea to Issac L. Rice who incorporated the Electric Vehicle Company (EVC) in New Jersey.

He in turn attracted big-money investors and partners and by the early 1900s, they had more than 600 electric cabs operating in New York with smaller fleets in Boston, Baltimore, and other eastern cities. In New York, the downtime it took to recharge batteries was addressed by converting an ice arena into a battery-swapping station where a cab could drive in, have its spent batteries replaced with a recharged set, and move on out. Brilliant, but like many a startup, it expanded too quickly, ran into unforeseen conflicts among investors and partners, and the whole taxi venture had collapsed by 1907.

EVC’s battery supplier (which was an investor and partner) became what we know today as Exide. Its manufacturing partner, Pope (also a gasoline-car pioneer), took the technology and applied a name from its thriving bicycle business, Columbia, to a run of cars for public sale. Columbia [bottom right] reached the 1000-units-built milestone well before those visionary mass-manufacturers in Detroit, Ransom Olds and Henry Ford, got up to speed.

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