A thing of the past

T HE CANADA SCIENCE and Technology Museum has a sizable collection of artifacts that run on alternative energy sources, dating back more than 100 years: steam and electric cars, early electric locomotives, memorabilia such as a model nuclear-powered ship and models of aircraft that ran on nuclear energy, a hydrogen fuel cell and technologies powered by biofuel.

COURTESY CANADA SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM

One of the most interesting artifacts is the 1910 Baker electric car, a good example of electric vehicles of the time. Back in the early days of automobiles, electric cars were explored as an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, which had to be cranked by hand to start the engine and required the driver to carry spare fuel because of the lack of service stations. The Baker was easy to start and quiet, did not require gear changes and had low operating costs. Electric vehicles were often marketed to women because of these qualities. They were popular with urban consumers because their limited range and slower speed was less of a challenge in cities than in rural areas.

COURTESY CANADA SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM

Sales of electric vehicles peaked in the early 1910s then began to drop as they were out-competed by gasoline-powered cars. The expanded road network required vehicles that could travel a greater distance, and discoveries of large petroleum deposits drove gasoline prices down. Finally, the invention of the electric starter removed the need for hand-crank ignition in gasoline-powered cars.

While many people regard electric vehicles as a new technology, their history dates back more than a century.

—Jason Armstrong

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