Inventive Minds: Inventing Green features the stories of historic and contemporary inventors whose work on socially-responsible technologies creates profound change for the common good.
Emile Bachelet (1863-1946) immigrated to the United States from France in the 1880s. An adept electrician as well as an inventor, Bachelet earned several patents in the early 1900s for electromagnetic therapeutic devices.
- Emile Bachelet with his prototype maglev train, 1908.
Around 1910, he applied his knowledge of electromagnetism to inventing a magnetic levitation train, or maglev.
He claimed that his “flying train” would be fast, clean, and safe.
- Emile Bachelet demonstrating his maglev train prototype in London, 1914.
Winston Churchill (center right) attended a demonstration of the maglev prototype in London in 1914.
- “Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, with joking suggestions for other uses of electromagnetic levitation, The Bystander, London, 27 May 1914.
But maglev trains consume a lot of electricity and require specially built tracks—two significant infrastructure and economic obstacles to their widespread adoption.
- The Bachelet Levitated System booklet.
In addition to designing human- and solar-powered aircraft, Paul MacCready (1925–2007) also invented new kinds of electric cars in collaboration with General Motors. MacCready and his company AeroVironment created the GM Sunraycer, a solar-powered car that won a race across the Australian Outback in 1987.
Their next project was prototyping an all-electric car for everyday use. The result was the proof-of-concept GM Impact, which made its public debut in 1990. "It helped change people's perceptions about how we can do more with less," MacCready said.
- General Motors Impact electric car fact sheet, 1994, front.
- General Motors Impact electric car fact sheet, 1994, back.
The experience gained from the Impact was put to use in developing GM’s EV1, the first modern all-electric car for the consumer market.
- EV1 product card, 1996.
- EV1 cutaway diagram, 1996.
- Daniel and His Electric Car children’s book by Ann Hegnauer, 1998.
Introduced in 1996, the EV1’s aerodynamic shape and advanced power systems made the new car practical, energy efficient, and appealing to consumers.
- General Motors EV1 electric car frequently asked questions, 1998.
EV1 prototype under assembly, 1994.
But in 2003 GM abruptly canceled the EV1 program, citing high production costs and a small market. Citizen protests over the EV1’s termination joined a national discussion about the promise of reducing air pollution and dependence on oil with electric cars.
- General Motors Plugged In magazine for children, 1997.
Story by Joyce Bedi and Alison Oswald
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
National Museum of American History
<a href="https://www.si.edu>Smithsonian Institution</a><br>Office of the Chief Information Officer</p>