History of the Electric Car: A Timeline From 1832 to 2019

KB Electric LLC installs many electric car chargers for our customers. It got us thinking: how did the electric car come about? Who invented the first one? We wanted to learn some history of electric cars to better understand the upward trend of electric vehicle purchasers. We see a lot more phone calls over the years for the installation of EV home charging stations, so it only makes sense that we learn a little about their history, as well as educate potential electric car owners and existing owners. Let’s dive right in!


The History of the Electric Car: A Timeline From 1832 to 2019


  • 1832: Robert Anderson, a Scottish inventor, invents the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. (but isn’t practical yet)


  • 1889: The first practical and successful electric wagon in the U.S. was built by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa. 


  • 1899: The electric vehicles gain popularity, especially amongst women, because they were quieter and emitted less smelly pollutants than their counterparts (gas and steam-powered).


  • 1900: By the turn of the century, electric cars were gaining speed, accounting for one third of the vehicles on the road in the U.S.


  • 1901: Thomas Edison starts his work on building a better battery as he sees the rise in demand of the electric car.


  • 1901: The first hybrid vehicle (powered by a battery and a gas engine) was invented by Ferdinand Porsche, named the Lohner-Porsche Mixte. 


  • 1920-1935: Beginning in 1920, there is a big decline in electric vehicles due to the discovery of cheap crude oil and the convenient gasoline filling stations. By 1935, there were little to no electric cars on the roads. 


  • 1968-1973: Gas prices rise, and other means of powering vehicles prompts the interest in electric cars again.


  • 1973-1977: Automakers have interest in creating alternative fuel vehicles, like General Motors (GM) who makes a prototype electric car, and Sebring-Vanguard’s CitiCar. Vanguard is the 6th largest auto maker in the U.S. at this time thanks to its electric vehicle.


  • 1979: The electric car declines again due to performance and range compared to gas-powered vehicles.


  • 1990: New state and federal regulations, like California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, creates an interest again in electric cars. Many automakers design electric vehicles similar to their more popular existing ones, and they are able to achieve performance and range a lot closer to their gas powered models.  


  • 1996: General Motors (GM) unveils the EV1.


  • 1997: The first mass-produced hybrid vehicle is unveiled by Toyota: the iconic Prius. It’s availability worldwide in 2000 creates an electric vehicle uproar, with many celebrities behind the wheel.


  • 2006: Tesla Motors unveils its Tesla Roadster, a luxury sports car with a 200 plus mile range. Tesla announced that it would be selling the electric car in 2008. Only about 2,400 of them sell because of their high price ticket of $110,000. Other automakers hear of Tesla’s news and begin to accelerate work on their own electric cars.


  • 2009 to 2013: Many automakers have electric vehicles out on the market at this time. The Energy Department invested in a nation-wide charging infrastructure by installing 18,000 residential, commercial, and public charging stations. 


  • 2010: The first commercially available plug-in hybrid makes its debut. General Motors (GM) unveils their Chevy Volt. Nissan unveils the LEAF, the all-electric car that began production in January 2013 for U.S. market thanks to a loan from the Energy Department.


  • 2013: Affordability of the electric car is achieved this year thanks to the drop in battery costs. The battery is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, and it plummeted to 50% in 4 years thanks to the Energy Department.


  • 2014-2019: Numerous all-electric, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids are on the market between 2014 and today. 


  • Future: By 2021, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, there will be over 230 battery powered cars on the market around the world. These will include SUVs, sports cars, and pickup trucks.  By 2024, Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts sales of electric cars will surpass $1 million in the U.S. (10 times what 2017 sales brought).