When I (Ray) was young, I was enamored by fast cars. One Christmas, I received a racetrack and some Hot Wheels cars called “Sizzlers.” These were electric cars. They came with a plastic gas pump that batteries were placed in. To run the Sizzlers, I plugged the gas-pump line into the side of a car and pressed on the top to “charge” the car’s internal battery. Once it was fully charged, I simply flipped a switch on the car’s bottom and placed it on the track. It proceeded to run lap upon lap until it “ran out of juice.”

Fast-forward some 40 years . . . The world is facing an increasing demand for energy. This demand, coupled with environmental concerns, is driving the cost of petroleum up, resulting in much higher gasoline prices. How has the automobile industry responded? They have begun manufacturing and selling electric cars that can “juice up” at electrical charging stations instead of gas stations. Most people believe that electric cars are a brand-new innovation, but you might be surprised just how long ago electric cars first appeared—many, many years before the Sizzlers!

The World Before the Electric Car

Before there were cars, airplanes, trains, and ships, how did people get from place to place? They walked, of course! God designed our bodies so that we can stand upright on two feet and move about by putting one foot in front of the other. If you had to be somewhere fast, you moved your feet faster by trotting, jogging, galloping, or running. What happens when you walk or run a very long way? You get tired and need to eat to get more energy so you can continue on. On his missionary journeys, the apostle Paul traveled an estimated 13,000 miles. Although much of his travel took him by sea, he certainly logged many miles by walking.

In addition to designing our bodies so we could walk, God also designed our brains so we could think. People started to find different means of transportation to make life easier. Beasts such as camels and horses were used. Although they could go longer distances at faster rates than people, they still had to be rested, watered, and fed so they could keep going. The invention of the wheel led to the invention of carts, chariots, and wagons, and the rotation of wheels was easier on the animals pulling the load.

The first self-propelled vehicle is thought to have been built by the French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769, although there is some dispute as to whether a steam-powered toy built in 1672 by a Jesuit missionary named Ferdinand Verbiest could be considered an actual vehicle. Credit is usually given to Cugnot because his creation, called the fardier à vapeur, could carry a person, although it was originally intended to transport French cannons for the military. Roughly translated, fardier à vapeur means “steam-powered wagon.” This was a significant step toward the automobile because it used steam coupled with a mechanical system to move, not the legs of a person or animal.

The internal combustion engine, which gasoline-powered cars use, was invented about 1807 by Nicephore and Claude Niepce. Although this engine could have been used for a car, it was first installed in a boat. Work continued on the internal combustion engine, and a German engineer named Karl Benz is given credit for inventing the first true automobile in 1885.

Many people believe that Henry Ford invented the first automobile, but that is not true. Ford’s contribution was to make tremendous improvements to an invention by Ransom Olds called the “assembly line.” The assembly line mass-produced automobiles so that they could be made at much lower cost for the general public to purchase.

As the demand for cars grew, new companies began to form.

The Invention of the Electric Car

Our timeline has taken us into the late 1800s, entering the 20th century, and still no mention of electric cars. Ready for a surprise? Credit for inventing the first electric car is often given to a Hungarian engineer named Anyos Jedlik. His invention appeared in 1828, nearly 60 years before Karl Benz!