That’s What The Electric Lobby Claimed A Century Ago
Electric cars today mean clean air. Emissions and warming are very important concerns of our age, and electrics can hopefully reduce both, but early in the last century these were not talking points. People mainly wanted something better than horse carriages to move around. They had a choice of petrol and electric vehicles, and petrol vehicles were better in terms of plain mobility because they went faster and farther.
Electrics were cheaper and easier to run, so their advertisements harped on these points, but sometimes they couched the economic argument in moral terms. The electric lobby argued its cars and trucks could reduce food scarcity and also bring down food prices. How?
The first part of the argument — that automobiles would increase availability of food for humans — applied to petrol vehicles equally, and went like this: more automobiles means fewer horses, hence more land to grow crops rather than fodder.
At a meeting in Chicago in 1913, Arthur Williams, then president of Electric Vehicle Association of America, said: “It takes five acres of land to grow feed for one horse. If motor cars were generally substituted for beasts of burden, those same five acres could be made to yield food for 15 human beings under modern methods of cultivation.”
A moment before this, Williams had been telling his audience horses did not make business sense because they lived only about four years “pulling heavy loads over city streets” whereas an electric truck lasted “twice, sometimes three times, as long.” He claimed 19,163 horses had died of diseases in New York City between October 1911 and October 1912.
The second part of the argument — that electric vehicles could reduce food prices — was based on the knowledge that they were cheaper to run than horse wagons and petrol trucks. Electric trucks cost 10–25% less per mile than hauling by horse. So, using electric trucks instead of horse wagons would reduce the transportation cost of food and make it cheaper.
Williams again: “In our great cities it has been found that foodstuffs which, at freight terminals, are worth $350 million, grow to the value of $500 million by the time they reach consumers. This rise is largely due to cost of transportation. In other words, expense of hauling goods adds nearly a third in price to the contents of the market basket. Does this not behoove all of us, as citizens, to look into methods of handling and trucking?”
In other words: “Shouldn’t all of you gentlemen be buying electric trucks for the good of humanity?”