A hundred years from now, when electric cars are as common as coffee shops, someone will ask (probably in a coffee shop), “Who invented the electric car?” And so the argument will begin. Bar bets of the future will be placed, won, and lost over that seemingly simple but actually very complicated question.
Who started it all? Who will go down in history as the “inventor” of the electric car? Depending on one’s approach to the query, there can be several answers. If we examine the invention, or more properly the development and first use of electricity itself, then we’ll be on our way to solving the puzzle.
There were many small discoveries along the way, like the identification of positive and negative current, conceptualization of insulators and conductors, and later evolution of the nomenclature. A 16th Century British doctor came up with the word “electric” based on the Greek “elektron.”
It took Alessandro Volta in 1800, however, to put many of these ideas together and create the first (as we know it today) working battery. On top of that, Volta figured out how to transmit the charge, which was perhaps his greater accomplishment.
Thirty years later Michael Faraday built a working electric dynamo, a type of early generator not too different in principle from today’s versions.
Therefore, perhaps in the year 2120 both Volta and Faraday will get some kind of joint credit for inventing the electric engine. Historians like to trace things back to their sources. This Italian-British scientific duo might be as close as we ever get to naming the “inventors” of a supremely important technology.