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The Amazing Collection in Thomas Edison's Garage

Electric Cars Women's Choice in Early 1900s - RF CafeIf you think electric cars are a new idea, read on. I saw this article, "The Amazing Collection in Thomas Edison's Garage," on another website (the equivalent of Jay Leno's Garage from a century ago) and thought it was a special report, but then I noticed it was actually a paid promotion. So, I contacted the company, B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc., asking for permission to re-post it in its entirety on RF Cafe. They kindly agreed to it. Per their mission statement: "Our company focuses on the conservation of historic artifacts in accordance with the principles defined in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice." Their portfolio of projects include transportation, industrial, scientific, military, and archeological artifacts. An opportunity to help support the preservation effort is provided.

PBS has a web page outlining the history of electric cars which, according to them, first arrived in the early 1800s when Scottish inventor Robert Anderson built the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. Wikipedia sources claim that in the early 1900s, electric cars were preferred by women drivers because they did not have a motor to crank over by hand (1912 Detroit Electric photo). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, PBS and Wikipedia do not agree entirely on the timeline.

Today, the electric car seems like a newly popularized and emerging technology, even a thing of the future.

But did you know that as early as 1900, electricity-powered vehicles accounted for about one-third of cars found on the roads of major metropolitan cities in the United States?

Yet even in the late 19th and early 20th Century, scientists were having difficulty developing a reliable, rechargeable car battery. Lead-acid batteries were very heavy, and the components often acted against one another (the acid corroded the lead).

Electric Cars in Thomas Edison's Garage - RF Cafe

Thomas Edison set his sights on improving the battery, thereby creating a better electric vehicle. He wanted to make the battery lighter, more powerful, rechargeable– a reliable and lasting source of energy for the popular but still technically-challenged automotive.

Edison’s battery made great strides, and today, the fruits of his labor and experiments, as well as his impressive collection of electric and gas-powered vehicles (dating from 1900-1914) still reside in a stately laboratory-garage on the inventor’s estate in West Orange, NJ. In addition to the vehicles, the structure houses his machine shop, an electric charging station, a revolving overhead washing system, and a gasoline pump.

Thomas Edison's Garage - RF Cafe

Unfortunately, the vehicles and equipment in the garage have been sitting untouched for a long period time, and are covered in grease and lubricants, which have attracted large amounts of dirt and dust. Due to its state, the garage and its impressive artifacts are currently inaccessible to the general public.

Edison’s estate is part of the National Parks Service, and the extent to which the government can fund a project like this one is limited. In the past, Federal funds and other grants were available for historical preservation projects like this one. But with recent budget cuts, many of these programs have been eliminated.

The Amazing Collection in Thomas Edison’s Garage

Fortunately, the conservation and preservation experts at BR Howard & Associates, Inc. (the same team who is currently working to preserve the Danish fishing boat) are working with the estate to restore this site and its vehicles and relics to their previous glory, and make the structure available to the public. But they cannot do it alone.

You are invited to join us. Please partner to save our history, one invention, one idea, one garage at a time.

The Amazing Collection in Thomas Edison’s Garage, by B.R. Howard & Associates - RF Cafe

Visit the BH Howard & Associates website to donate to the Edison Electric Vehicles project, and to view some of the artifacts they have already preserved as well as the current projects that are looking for assistance.

Car Collection in Thomas Edison’s Garage - RF Cafe

Edison’s ideas and inventions continue to influence the technology and auto world every day. Scientists still struggle with the same problems that Edison faced over 100 years ago, and the future of the electric vehicle still depends on new innovations rising up around the same issues. Yet we will not be able to access and explore these vast units of the inventor’s great collection, and go behind the scenes of history until the goals of this project have been completed.

Please donate today.

The Amazing Collection In Thomas Edison’s Garage

Posted  4/11/2012

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