“With the mercury standing at 44 degrees below zero in Winnipeg, Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles were on the streets giving their regular service, although traffic in general was at a standstill. Think of it. The cold was so intense that even telegraph wires were snapped.”
See this 1912 ad for the Detroit Electric
Advertisement for 1912 Detroit Electric
1912 The Detroit Electric
Anderson Electric Car Company
The Horseless Age magazine Vol. 29, No. 8
February 21, 1912, Page 8, 9”x12”
The concept of electrified transportation in Manitoba is not a new idea, and technology for electric vehicles and regenerative braking were developed over 100 years ago. The first electric streetcar arrived in Winnipeg on November 25, 1890, and in 1911 one could find in the pages of the Free Press numerous articles and advertisements selling electric vehicles, with a Detroit Electric Service Station located on Carlton Street, just North of Portage Avenue.
The Detroit Electric car utilized the Edison battery, based on a nickel-iron chemistry, which functioned in minus 44° F or plus 110° F temperatures without difficulty. Original Edison batteries can still be found in use today in several applications, still functioning at their full capacity.
Some car enthusiasts, such as Jay Leno, are still driving their Baker Electric vehicles today on their original batteries.
The downside of the Edison battery was their cost, which led to the dominance of the inferior lead acid battery still in common use today, and eventually to the development of several other nickel battery chemistries. Nonetheless, the Edison battery became Thomas Edison’s most profitable invention, gaining wide adoption in mining lamps and railway signalling.
In 1900 the automobiles manufactured in the USA consisted of 1,684 steam-driven, 1,575 electric, and 963 gasoline cars. By 1912 the USA had 30,000 electric and 900,000 gasoline vehicles on the road, with the Century Electric Roadster being sold for $1,750 USD while the Model T went for $550 USD.
By 1920 there were 20 million gasoline vehicles a year being built in the USA, and electric car manufacturers had either gone out of business or started building cars with gasoline engines. The continuing trend and popularity of gasoline powered vehicles was a result of World War I, in which they proved their reliability and utility under difficult conditions. Other contributing factors to the preference of internal combustion powered automobiles included a cheaper initial purchase price, greater distance range than the purely electric vehicle, refueling could be done in minutes, and several electric vehicle companies marketed their electric cars mainly towards wealthy woman resulting in a limited niche market. Perhaps most importantly however, was the discovery of crude oil in East Texas, which greatly reduced the price of gasoline, and the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1911, which eliminated the hand crank (and hand crank injuries) and made the gasoline car easy to start.
By Jeff Blais
A 1911 ad from the Winnipeg Free Press can be seen here:
1911 Detroit Electric Ad from the Winnipeg Free Press