GE and the electric car: 100 years of invention and innovation

GE's relationship with the electric car dates back to 1897, in the formative days of the auto industry

By Museum of Innovation & Science

Thomson Electric Wagonette Automobile (1895/1905) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Earliest cars

GE's involvement in electric cars dates to the 1890s, beginning with the Thomson Electric Wagonette Automobile. Inventor Elihu Thomson is seated in the front left of the truck with the control stick in hand. Developed in Lynn, MA by Thomson and Hermann Lemp. The 3 horsepower, 75 volt, 30 ampere battery-supplied motor propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 18 miles per hour.

Thomson Uniflow Steam Automobile, General Electric Company, 1895/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Steam powered automobile built by General Electric inventors Elihu Thomson and Hermann Lemp. The new "flash" tube boiler design and improved steering and braking mechanisms represent important advances in steam vehicle technology.

Mr. Lovejoy's Runabout, 1900, General Electric Company, 1900/1900, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE Secretary Jesse R. Lovejoy with his Runabout style electric car, 1900. GE engineers manipulated the steering device on the automobile. The Westinghouse Agricultural Machinery factory and General Electric factory are in the background.

Gas-electric hybrid bus, Fifth Avenue Line, New York City (1905/1905) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Hybrid bus, 1905

The gas-electric hybrid concept dates back to the early days of the automobile industry. General Electric developed a gasoline-electric hybrid bus in 1905 for the Fifth Avenue line in New York City.

Gasoline-electric Hybrid Bus Used on Fifth Avenue Line, New York City, General Electric Company, 1905/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Gasoline-electric hybrid bus operates on New York City's Fifth Avenue Line. It is powered by General Electric equipment. A sign on the bus promotes an automobile route to Riverside Drive and Grant's Tomb.

Gasoline-electric Hybrid Bus Used on Fifth Avenue Line, New York City, General Electric Company, 1905/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Gasoline-electric hybrid bus operates on New York City's Fifth Avenue Line. It is powered by General Electric equipment. The bus is next to a horse-drawn cab also operated by the Fifth Avenue Line

Gas-electric Hybrid Bus, Fifth Avenue Line, New York City, General Electric Company, 1905/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

General Electric developed a gasoline-electric hybrid bus in 1905 for the Fifth Avenue line in New York City. It is powered by General Electric equipment. The bus route features Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Menagerie. The fare was ten cents.

Driver with Gasoline-electric Hybrid Bus Used on Fifth Avenue Line, New York City, General Electric Company, 1905/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Gasoline-electric hybrid bus operates on New York City's Fifth Avenue Line. It is powered by General Electric equipment. entrance of the bus. The bus is pictured from the front, and shows the driver at the steering wheel.

Driver and Conductor with Gasoline-electric Hybrid Bus Used on Fifth Avenue Line, New York City, General Electric Company, 1905/1905, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Gasoline-electric hybrid bus operates on New York City's Fifth Avenue Line. It is powered by General Electric equipment. The driver is seated at the front of the bus and the conductor stands at the rear entrance of the bus.

Woman Stands in Electric Car Next to General Electric Car Charger (1912/1912) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Charging station advertising

A woman stands in electric car, next to a GE car charger, also known as a mercury arc rectifier, circa 1912

Woman with Electric Car Model, 1912, General Electric Company, 1908/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A woman poses with a scale model of an electric car and rectifier charging station.

Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, General Electric Company, 1908/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A woman operates a GE electric car charging station, also known as a mercury arc rectifier. The tube on the back of the charger is glowing.

Woman Operates an General Electric car charging station, General Electric Company, 1910/1910, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A woman moves a switch on a mercury arc rectifier electric car charging station.

Woman Poses with General Electric car charging station, General Electric Company, 1914/1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Poses with General Electric car charging station, General Electric Company, 1914/1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Drives into Garage with an Electric Car, General Electric Company, 1910/1910, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Drives into Garage with an Electric Car, General Electric Company, 1910/1910, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Stands in Electric Car Next to General Electric Car Charger, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Climbs Out of an Electric Car Next to General Electric Car Charger, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman with Rectifier and Car 1912, General Electric Company, 1908/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A woman prepares to charge an electric car using a General Electric mercury arc rectifier. Mercury arc rectifiers converted alternating current electricity into direct current electricity.

Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, 1912, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman Sits in Electric Car Next to General Electric Car Charger, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
Woman operating General Electric Car Charger, General Electric Company, 1912/1912, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A woman operates a GE electric car charging station, also known as a mercury arc rectifier. The wheel of an electric car is visible. The image is dark, and the tube on the back of the charger is glowing.

General Electric Car Charging Outfit, 1907 (1907/1907) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Electric car charging stations - Mercury arc rectifiers

GE single phase mercury arc rectifier (garage outfit), electric car charging station.

General Electric Mercury Arc Rectifier, Used to Convert AC electricity to DC., General Electric Company, 1904/1910, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE mercury arc rectifier, used to convert AC electricity to DC. The rectifiers were used as an electric car charger during the early 1900s.

Diagram Showing Components of General Electric Mercury Arc Rectifier, General Electric Company, 1909/1909, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Diagram highlights components of GE mercury arc rectifier, used for converting AC electricity to direct current.

General Electric Mercury Arc Rectifier Charging Unit, Used to Convert AC electricity to DC., General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE mercury arc rectifier, used to convert AC electricity to DC.

Charles Steinmetz Circuit Diagram and Notes for a Direct Current Mercury Arc Rectifier, 1903/1910, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Circuit diagram and notes written by General Electric engineer Charles Steinmetz for the direct current mercury arc rectifier. The notes were used as an exhibit for patent docket #7413. The rectifier was used for charging storage batteries and electric cars.

Charles Steinmetz Circuit Diagram for Single-Phase Rectifier for Storage Battery, General Electric Company, 1903/1903, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Circuit diagram drawn by General Electric engineer Charles Steinmetz, dated June 25th, 1903, The diagram depicts the development of a single-phase rectifier used for charging storage batteries and batteries in electric cars.

General Electric Car Charging Station with a Car in a Private Garage (1909/1909) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Garages

In the early 1900s, charging stations were added to home garages, garages for businesses, and public parking garages.

General Electric Car Charging Station in Jesse R. Lovejoy's Garage, General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE Mercury Arc Rectifier electric car charging station in the garage of Jesse R. Lovejoy, GE Secretary.

General Electric Charging Station and Electric Car In Garage of GE Treasurer Samuel Whitestone, General Electric Company, 1911/1911, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Runabout type electric car is plugged into a GE mercury arc rectifier charging station. The charging station is in the garage of Samuel Whitestone, GE Treasurer. View of the side of the car.

General Electric Charging Station and Electric Car In Garage of GE Treasurer Samuel Whitestone, General Electric Company, 1911/1911, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A Runabout type electric car is plugged into a GE mercury arc rectifier charging station. The charging station is in the garage of Samuel Whitestone, GE Treasurer.

Electric Car charging at General Electric Charging Station in Garage of Willis T. Hanson, General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

An electric car charges in the garage of Willis T. Hanson in Schenectady, NY. The car is attached to a GE mercury arc rectifier electric car charger

Electric Truck Charges at General Electric Charging Station in Schenectady Illuminating Company Garage, General Electric Company, 1914/1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Schenectady Illuminating Company Electric Truck No. 4, in garage with GE 37.5 kw rectifier charging station.

Two Schenectady Illuminating Company Electric Trucks Charge at General Electric Charging Station, General Electric Company, 1914/1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Schenectady Illuminating Company electric trucks charge at GE rectifier charging stations inside the Illuminating Company garage

General Electric Rectifier Charging Electric Trucks, Schenectady Illuminating Company., General Electric Company, 1914/1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Schenectady Illuminating Company / Mohawk Gas Co. Truck No. 1 charges at GE rectifier electric car charging station in the Schenectady Illuminating Company Garage.

Electric Car Charges at General Electric Charging Station in Schenectady Illuminating Company Garage, General Electric Company, 1913/1913, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

An electric car charges at GE three Phase High Power Rectifier, Schenectady Illuminating Company's Center Street Garage, April 12, 1913.

General Electric Battery Charging Apparatus, Fitch Electric Garage, 1916, General Electric Company, 1916/1916, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Large battery charging apparatus in the Fitch Electric Garage, including control panel and motor generator

General Electric Electric Car Charging Apparatus, Fitch Electric Garage, 1916, General Electric Company, 1916/1916, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Battery charging apparatus with car charging, Fitch Electric Garage, 1916. Includes large control panel and motor-generator set.

Electric Car Battery Charging Outfit Installed at Wolf and Dessauer's Garage, New York City,, General Electric Company, 1916/1916, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Battery charging outfit installed at Wolf and Dessauer's Garage, city, consisting of MA-4-15 HP-1800-200V 60 cycle 2-phase motor direct connected to ML-F-11.2 kw- 11.2 volt generator. Switchboard has motor starting panel equipped with starting compensator. Battery charging panel equipped with four battery charging rheostats. Provision made for charging four cars at once.

Cars Exiting a Washington, DC Parking Garage that Includes General Electric Car Charging Stations, General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Two automobiles exit the Cooke & Stoddard Garage in Washington, DC. Exterior view of the garage.

Electric Car Charging Next to Three Charging Panels, Washington, DC., General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Three GE charging panels, 20 amp rectifier, Cooke & Stoddard Garage, Washington DC. Electric car is charging at the panels.

Electric car charges at General Electric charging station inside a Washington, DC parking garage., General Electric Company, 1907/1907, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

General view of the charging floor, with car charging at right. Cooke & Stoddard Garage, Washington, DC.

Edison with Bailey Electric Car (1910/1912) by Edison Storage Battery CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Edison and Steinmetz

Inventors Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz were proponents of electric cars. Thomas Edison poses with a Bailey Electric Car. The car has a sign, which reads "1000 mile endurance run, Bailey Electric, new Edison storage batteries."

Detroit Electric Autombile Advertisement Featuring Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, Anderson Electric Car Company, 1914-03-28, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Advertisement for Detroit Electric automobiles in the March 28, 1914 Saturday Evening Post, featuring Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Steinmetz electric car 1914, Steinmetz, Charles, 1914, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE engineer Charles Steinmetz poses with his 1914 Detroit Electric Car and his adopted family. From left to right are grandchildren Midge, Billy and Joe Hayden, and adopted son Joseph LeRoy Hayden. Steinmetz is inside the car.

GE Hybrid Tank (1918-12-24) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Hybrid Tank, 1917

During World War I, General Electric developed the first American military tank. A variation of the tank was a electrically propelled gun mount. Both the tank and the gun mount used a Caterpillar tractor chassis and a GE gasoline-electric motor, making them both hybrid vehicles. This image offers a side view of the tank ascending a grade.

GE Hybrid Tank, 1918, General Electric Company, 1918-12-24, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

The tank is facing forward during a test and a military officer is visible at the top of the tank.

GE Hybrid Tank Drawing, General Electric Company, 1917-05-25, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Photograph of a scale drawing of the tank, showing the front, side, and top views of the tank. The drawings were created in Lynn, MA.

GE Hybrid Gun Mount, General Electric Company, 1919-12-30, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

During World War I, General Electric developed the first American military tank. A variation of the tank was a electrically propelled gun mount. Both the tank and the gun mount used a Caterpillar tractor chassis and a GE gasoline-electric motor, making them both hybrid vehicles.

General Electric Delta Electric Car (1968) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Delta car and Elec-trak, 1966-1974

In 1968, GE introduced its experimental Delta electric car to great anticipation. The car, developed by Bruce Laumeister of the GE Research and Development Center, delivered a range of 40 miles per charge. The car led to the development of GE's Elec-Trak line of electric mowing tractors.

Nelson Rockefeller with General Electric Delta Electric Car, General Electric Company, 1968, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller exits General Electric's experimental Delta electric car.

Delta car - ca. 1968, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more
General Electric Elec-Trak Lawn Tractor, Model E15, General Electric Company, 1970, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

While the GE Delta experimental car created interest for electric vehicle technology, its batteries were too heavy and its range too short for commercially successful transportation. The weight and short range were ideal for electric tractors and in 1970 GE entered the electric lawn tractor market with its Elec-trak line. GE sold 30,000 tractors in four years, but did not capture enough of the lawn tractor market, and sold the product line to Wheel Horse in 1974.

Dr. James Lafferty with the GE 100 Electric Car (1978/1978) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

GE100, 1978

Dr. James Lafferty of the GE Research Center managed the GE electric car projects in the 1970s. The GE100 car used 18 modified lead-acid batteries to deliver 75 miles per charge on the highway or 40 miles per charge in the city. The batteries were good for 500 charging cycles. Development of the car was funded by a $250,000 Department of Energy grant.

Commercial for GE-100 featuring Sam Posey - ca. 1977, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE filmed a commercial at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California, pitting GE100 against Indy racing cars.

General Electric's GE100 Electric Car During the Filming of a Commercial at the Ontario Motor Speedway., General Electric Company, 1978/1980, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

The GE 100 Centennial Electric Automobile races Indy style cars at the Ontario Motor Speedway during the filming of the television commercial.

General Electric GE 100 Electric Car Diagram, General Electric Company, 1977/1978, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Diagram showing the electric components of the GE 100 electric car.

General Electric's GE 100 Electric Car, Looking Under the Hood, General Electric Company, 1978/1978, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE's GE100 electric car with the hood open, showing the motor and other electrical components.

GE Engineer Douglas Gruber Examines Battery Trolley Underneath the GE 100 Electric Car, General Electric Company, 1978/1978, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

GE engineer Douglas Gruber, one of the engineers involved with GE's electric car project of the 1970s, examines the battery trolley underneath the GE 100 electric car. The car used 18 modified batteries to deliver 75 miles per charge on the highway or 40 miles per charge in the city. The batteries were good for 500 charging cycles.

General Electric's GE 100 Electric Car at the United States Capitol, General Electric Company, 1978/1978, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

General Electric's GE 100 Electric Car with Congressman Samuel Stratton in Front of the United States Capitol

Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar, General Electric Company, 1978/1978, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

The GE100 electric car was designed to show a viable electric car could be created using existing technology, One car that went into production was the CitiCar electric car manufactured by Sebring-Vanguard. The car was photographed during a 1978 electric car convention in Philadelphia, PA.

GE ETV-1 Electric Car on Exhibit (1981-05-21) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

ETV-1, 1979

General Electric ETV-1 is displayed as part of an electric car exhibit at the Lex Brooklands Auto Showroom, a Volvo dealership across from the Royal Institution in London, UK. The exhibit was created in conjunction with Dr. Roland W. Schmitt's Royal Institution lecture "Electrifying the Auto," delivered on May 21, 1981. The ETV-1 showcased the state of the art electric vehicle technology of the time, and was developed in a partnership between GE and Chrysler with a range of 125 miles on the highway, or 75 in the city.

General Electric Electric Car Diagram, 1979, General Electric Company, 1979/1979, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Cut-away diagram showing the components of the GE ETV-1 electric car. The car was developed in 1979 in partnership with Chrysler.

Dr. James Lafferty, Prince Philip, and Dr. Roland W. Schmitt Examine GE ETV-1 Electric Car, General Electric Company, 1981-05-21, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

A group of people, including Dr. James Lafferty (center), Prince Philip (to the right of Lafferty), and Dr. Roland W. Schmitt (far right) examine the General Electric ETV-1 electric car, on display as part of an electric car exhibit at the Lex Brooklands Auto Showroom, a Volvo dealership across from the Royal Institution in London, UK. The exhibit was created in conjunction with Dr. Roland W. Schmitt's Royal Institution lecture "Electrifying the Auto," delivered on May 21, 1981.

Prince Philip and Dr. Roland W. Schmitt Examine a Hybrid Car Exhibit, General Electric Company, 1981-05-21, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Prince Philip and Dr. Roland W. Schmitt examine a hybrid car exhibit panel displayed as part of an electric car exhibit at the Lex Brooklands Auto Showroom, a Volvo dealership across from the Royal Institution in London, UK. The exhibit was created in conjunction with Dr. Roland W. Schmitt's Royal Institution lecture "Electrifying the Auto," delivered on May 21, 1981. Prince Philips' electric van was also included as part of the exhibit. Dr. Schmitt was the director of GE Corporate Research & Development from 1978 to 1987.

The Electric Car: A New Beginning Pt. 1- ca. 1976, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Part 1 of a film showing the development of ETV-1

The Electric Car: A New Beginning Pt. 2 - ca. 1976, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Part 2 of a film showing the development of ETV-1

General Electric Plug-in Hybrid Car, 1983 (1983/1983) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

GE plug-in hybrid, HTV-1, 1982

The GE HTV-1 electric car was delivered to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1983. The image shows the car being charged and fueled with gas at the same time.

General Electric Plug-in Hybrid Car, 1983, General Electric Company, 1983/1983, From the collection of: Museum of Innovation & Science
Show lessRead more

Side view and front view of the GE HTV-1 hybrid electric car in front of the GE Research Center in 1983. The car was designed in partnership with Volkswagen.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was developed in 2017 by miSci, the Museum of Innovation & Science. All photos were scanned from the General Electric Photograph Collection.

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.
Explore more
Related theme
Once Upon a Try
A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world
View theme
Google apps