Jan 20, 2019

Inventive Minds: Transportation – From Maglev to Electric Car

Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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.

Early Working Bachelet Maglev Model, Emile Bachelet, Edwin Levick, 1910, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
Bachalet's Maglev
Inventing the "Flying Train"
Emile Bachelet with his prototype maglev train, Emile Bachelet, 1908, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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.

Emile Bachelet with his prototype maglev train, Emile Bachelet, 1908, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Around 1910, he applied his knowledge of electromagnetism to inventing a magnetic levitation train, or maglev.

Emile Bachelet demonstrating his maglev train prototype in London in 1914, 1914, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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 Bachelet's demonstration of his maglev prototype in London in 1914, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Winston Churchill (center right) attended a demonstration of the maglev prototype in London in 1914.

Winston Churchill (center right) attended Bachelet's demonstration of his maglev prototype in London in 1914, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
“Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, Thomas Maybank, The Bystander, 1914-05-27, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

- “Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, with joking suggestions for other uses of electromagnetic levitation, The Bystander, London, 27 May 1914.

“Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, Thomas Maybank, The Bystander, 1914-05-27, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
“Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, Thomas Maybank, The Bystander, 1914-05-27, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
“Let Us Levitate!” cartoon, Thomas Maybank, The Bystander, 1914-05-27, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
The Bachelet Levitated System booklet, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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.

EV1 product card, 1996, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
MacCready's Electric Car
Designing the EV1

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.

General Motors Impact electric car fact sheet, 1994, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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, back, 1994, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

- General Motors Impact electric car fact sheet, 1994, back.

EV1 product card, 1996, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

- EV1 cutaway diagram, 1996.

Daniel and His Electric Car children’s book by Ann Hegnauer, 1998, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

- Daniel and His Electric Car children’s book by Ann Hegnauer, 1998.

General Motors EV1 electric car frequently asked questions, 1998, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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.

General Motors EV1 electric car frequently asked questions, 1998, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
EV1 prototype under assembly, 1994, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

EV1 prototype under assembly, 1994.

EV1 prototype under assembly, 1994, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
General Motors Plugged In magazine for children, 1997, From the collection of: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

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.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Credits: Story

Transportation

Story by Joyce Bedi and Alison Oswald
of the
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
at the
National Museum of American History

Presentation by
Marc Bretzfelder
<a href="https://www.si.edu>Smithsonian Institution</a><br>Office of the Chief Information Officer</p>

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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