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1894: New York City's First Electric Taxis

In recent years, we've all got used to seeing electric vehicles gliding around our cities, but NYC had electric taxis trundling around town over a century ago.

The Electrobat in NYC in 1894
The Electrobat | Wikipedia

The Electrobat began as a project between two engineers, Henry Morris and Pedro Salom, in 1894. The pair built the car in just two months using a modified ship motor powered by lead-acid batteries, and it was heavy, slow, and oddly proportioned. Nonetheless, initial trials proved that the Electrobat had plenty of potential and even had a range of over 50 miles.

Morris and Salom unveiled a revised design shortly after, christening it the Electrobat 2. Their new and improved design weighed less than half that of the original, and it was quickly put to work as a taxi, ferrying passengers around New York City.

The limited range of the Electrobat was its biggest drawback, but its engineers had designed a system for swapping the battery in just a few seconds using a crane. This allowed it to drive around the city all day, as whenever it was running low on charge, the driver simply headed back to the central depot for a battery swap.

A couple of years later, the fledgling car company was bought out by William Whitney, a well-known New York City investor, and he greatly expanded the business, setting up similar networks of electric taxis in cities across the U.S. 

However, it turned out that these operations couldn't be made profitable fast enough, and the company began quickly losing ground to gas-powered automobiles and was eventually shut down.

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