Retro Friday: the Electric Vehicle Company, Maxwell, and Chrysler

In 1896, Henry G. Morris and Pedro G. Salom, makers of the Electrobat taxi cab, formed the Electric Carriage & Wagon Company. Nobody knew that gasoline was the future of the car then: the very first cars, made in the 18th century, had been steamers. Karl Benz made several copies of a single gasoline-burning car in 1885, but then Thomas Edison had opened the world’s first generating station for commercial and residential buyers even earlier—and electricity seemed like it might be the fuel of the future.

1908 Columbia Electric car

Morris and Salom’s company was, like Riker Electric Motor, quickly snapped up by Isaac Rice, founder of Electric Boat. He put them together into the Electric Vehicle Company. Meanwhile, Pope Manufacturing had spun off its electric cars as the Columbia Electric—and Columbia acquired the Electric Vehicle Company from Rice. Mergers and acquisitions were faster than the actual cars.

In 1900, Columbia launched its first gasoline car, which moved the engine to the front and replaced the tiller with a left-hand-mount steering wheel. To anchor this moment in time, Ransom Olds created the world’s first mass-produced car in the next year; it was the world’s best seller from 1901 to 1904.

In 1907, Columbia started making a series hybrid car, which had a gasoline generator powering an electric motor. Two different American companies had produced hybrid-electric cars back in 1898, so this was not a revolutionary idea.

1908 Columbia Electric car

In the teens, Briscoe, founder of Maxwell Motors, bought up the Columbia and Electric Vehicle Company along with several other automakers. Extending Maxwell so far brought the company into  bankruptcy—one it would never have risked had it stuck to its own cars. That started a boom and bust cycle, as Walter Flanders (of EMF) bought Maxwell and took it over, overseeing several quite successful years. In the next crisis, Walter Chrysler came to the rescue, and in 1925, Chrysler Corporation bought Maxwell Motors—and that is the Mopar connection to the old Electrobat and Columbia Electric cars like the ones pictured here. To see the full brochure, with more photos of the cars and the original text, drop by Motales.

Peugeot’s first car, a steam tricycle, was made in 1886, followed in 1890 by an internal-combustion model.