Long before Tesla and Uber, a great time for electric cabs

New York at the turn of the 19th Century was ripe for the taxi business. In March 1899, shares in the city’s Electric Vehicle Company were appreciating rapidly. Within about a month, the company’s ordinary stock rose from 17 dollars to 65 dollars. A motoring journal quoted a “keen New York broker” as follows: “A subscriber of 10,000 dollars for the stock of the Vehicle Company received 100 shares of preferred and 225 shares of common. The preferred is now worth 90 and the common 65. This shows 23,625 dollars returned on the original investment of 10,000 dollars, or 13,625 dollars profit.”

The company had placed orders for 200 more electric cabs to be delivered by June 1. It was also building a workshop in 42nd Street, near Third Avenue, and one charging station each down town, and on the east side.


France — where “the claims of pleasure are so frequently placed before those of business” — was also, after many false starts, getting ready for electric cabs at that time.

Aubervilliers-based Compagnie Generale des Voitures was building 150 cabs of three types that didn’t look anything like Walter Bersey’s London taxis. The models for Paris included a landaulet, open coupe, and closed coupe, with identical frames underneath. The cabs weighed 2 tonnes each, of which just the batteries hung under the frame accounted for a hefty 800kg. The cars could travel 15 kilometres per hour.

frameMost budget cars now have disc brakes in the front and drums at the back. So, for reasons of economy, the Paris taxis had pneumatic tyres on the front wheels and solid rubber at the back. Pneumatic tyres were used to minimise damage to the battery and extend its life. The motor was placed at the rear of the frame and both rear wheels were driven by chains.

The Paris company saw a bright future for electric cars and planned to build 1,500 each year from its 40,000sqm factory. It had also built a charging station with two steam engines of 250 horse power each.


It was a ‘happening’ time for electric vehicles in France where a commission had been appointed “to inquire into and report upon the means to be taken to provide charging stations in all parts of the country where owners of electrical motor-vehicles can promptly have their accumulators recharged.”

The commission organised a competition for the design or manufacture of a “portable chest fitted with universal connections for attachments to electricity supply mains” offering an award of 400 francs (about £16 at the time) for the best design.



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