This Ingenious Electric Propulsion Car From 19th Century Was Way Ahead Of Its Time

The “electric carriage” in the picture above seems to be way ahead of its time! This model and its picture were published on 27th July 1889 issue of Scientific American. While considering today’s technological advancements, this seems like a cool idea. Take this fact into account that we are talking about the time when South Dakota wasn’t even an official state yet. The article that accompanied the picture states that the patent for this ingenious car design was granted to a guy named M.r Harvey D. Dibble of Rapid City, Dakota Territory. You can check out the details of the design and the concept in this patent published by Google.

Mr. Harvey calls it “SYSTEM OF ELECTRIC PROPULSION” in his patent filing. This seems like an idea that is way ahead of its age as the invention of the free-wheeling internal combustion automobile was due in a few years after this application.

As Harvey puts it, the object of this invention was to provide a system of electrical propulsion for common roads to cut down the need to employ a railway-track for mobility. This will be done by arranging the steering gear that automatically runs the wagon parallel to the line of the conductors.

You can observe in the illustration above; the vehicle was what you would call an electric car in modern terms. It was powered by overhead electric wires. It also had enough room to manoeuvre to avoid an obstacle and was able to be steered away while remaining connected to the electrical wires above.

Below is an abstract from the 27 July 1889 issue of Scientific American:


It has been patented by Mr. Harvey D. Dibble, of Rapid City, Dakota Territory. The wagon body to which this improvement is applied is partly supported on a caster wheel, provided with a fork, journaled in the forward end of an extension of the frame of the body. Upon the rear axle, in this case carrying the drive wheels, is mounted a spur wheel engaged by a pinion on the armature shaft of a motor secured to the main frame of the body. Above the road bed are suspended electrical conductors, supported by poles and brackets, and each wagon is provided with a trolley which rides upon a pair of the conductors, whereby connection is made between the motor and conductors, through a vertical shaft, the electrical switch being close to the driver. The driver’s seat is supported on the forward extension of the body, where he is able to guide the wagon by turning the caster wheel in one direction or the other. Ordinarily the wagon will run in a line parallel with the conductors, the trolley following any deviations from a straight line, and the driver not being required to use the steering lever except when it is needful to turn aside, when the wagon can be made to run in a new line according to the position in which the driver places the steering lever. The yielding nature of the connection between the wagon and the trolley is such as to permit one wagon to turn out for another upon the road, or permit a wagon to run continuously on one side of the conductors. A wagon of this description, having an electric motor of sufficient capacity, may also, carrying its own load, draw a train of other loaded wagons.

Soon after the publication of this ingenious design, the territory of Dakota got their statehood. Continuing this trend, plenty of cities around the globe saw their ingenious versions of mass transit and transport systems. From outdoor escalator of Medellín to New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway connecting East River with Manhattan, there have been many ambitious and downright crazy ideas of mass transportation.

But for now, we bow down to the vision and genius of Mr. Dibble, a humble resident of the Dakota Territory.

Have any more crazy transportation techniques that you would like to share with us? Let us know in the comments’ below!

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