Feb 11 2011 By Eddie Menday
Electric cars are certainly nothing new, as Eddie Menday has discovered. He welcomes their return to the streets but bemoans the loss of the clean and silent trolley buses.
WE HAVE heard a lot recently of the further development of electric cars and the way they can help eliminate global emissions.
However, this is not a new idea. Between 1831 and 1839, Robert Anderson, a Scot, invented a crude 'electric carriage' that caused great interest and wonder at the time.
Across the English Channel, electric cars were developed in 1835 by a Dutchman, Professor Sibrandus Stratingh. The great problem with these vehicles was that the batteries that ran them could not be recharged.
In 1881, French engineers Gaston Plante and Camille Fauré discovered how to overcome this problem and developed an improved storage battery with success.
At the time, France and Britain were the leaders in the research and development of electric vehicles, in an age when competition of any sort was under scrutiny.
In Belgium the first electric racing car was produced, which attained a top speed of 68mph in trials.
The US was late coming into this research, but an electric tricycle was developed that led to an interest in larger vehicles. The Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia introduced a small fleet of electric cabs that plied for trade in New York and was a great novelty.
Other forms of propulsion were investigated and steam wagons were developed and used mainly for carting goods, although a few passenger-carrying vehicles were produced.
The drawback with the steam wagons was that they took a long time to warm up, and the smoke and ash made it uncomfortable for passengers and passing members of the public.
As petrol and diesel engines developed, electric and steam fell out of favour. The drawback with electric cars was the need to recharge the batteries. However, engineers turned their attention to propelling trams with electric current, rather than horses, which were being used at the end of the 19th century.
A large tramway service had been established, and the use of electric power by way of overhead lines was a distinct advantage.
However, local authorities had other ideas, and objected to poles and lines being put up in their streets. Ealing was one borough that fought hard against these new-fangled streetcars and all that went with them.
However, the London United Tram Company secured an Act of Parliament in 1900 to go ahead with proposals for electric trams.
A generating station was built in Chiswick to supply the power for
the trams in the area. The horse-drawn service ran from Hammersmith to The Bell in Hounslow, but when it was electrified, the line was extended to The Hussar pub in Hounslow Heath to serve the nearby barracks.
Later, the trams were replaced by trolley buses, one of the cleanest and noiseless vehicles ever to be used on our roads, and a joy to ride in.
In my opinion, it was a great mistake to replace them with diesel buses, and in this day and age of environmental thinking, they would have been highly beneficial.