Henry Ford’s Wife Chose Detroit Electric Over Ford Model T


1914 Ford Model T

1914 Ford Model T

As TIME magazine recently wrote:

“Girls dig electric cars. At least that was the marketing message back in 1915, when petrol-powered autos were beginning to decisively pull away from electric ones. Battery-powered vehicles retained popularity among female drivers in cities, who valued them for their reliability — they wouldn’t blow up, as gas cars were known to do on occasion — and ease of use.”

“Clara Ford, wife of Henry, whose Model T all but decimated the electric car, drove a 1914 Detroit Electric. (What her husband made of the fact that she wasn’t driving a Ford is lost to history.) The Detroit models could run 80 miles on a single charge, with a top speed of about 20 mph. Pokey, but this was before the age of Danica Patrick.”

Apparently, Clara Ford knew what Henry Ford didn’t: electric vehicles were and still are more reliable than gas automobiles.  Clara couldn’t risk a break down, so electric it was.  Today, we’d prefer to avoid a break down, so electric it is.  Times may have changed the automotive landscape, but the truths that applied to electric vehicles a century ago still apply today.

Source: TIME via GM-Volt

Categories: Ford, General


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31 Comments on "Henry Ford’s Wife Chose Detroit Electric Over Ford Model T"

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And you can see why… What a beautiful vehicle! Electrics were more rounded than the comparably brutish-angularity of early Fords. Women preferred the more refined styling, quiet motoring, easier operation and lack of fumes…

The Model T was dirty, smelly, cantankerous, and not well suited to some of the less emancipated women of that era.

A more accurate statement would be that Clara Ford chose a Detroit Electric over a chauffeur. Which still makes the point about clean and reliable electric drivetrains.

It’s also likely she chose the electric so she didn’t have to mess with that hand crank in the front of the Model T in order to start the darn thing up.

Yes, cranks required a lot of physical strength, and sometimes could seriously injure the operator, including breaking bones, when they kicked back.

Thumbs were the usual victims. My grandfather taught me how to hold the crank to prevent my thumb from being exposed when starting them. He converted all of his to electric start anyway.

I still have a 1911 Model T in storage that he restored. Haven’t driven it in about 10 years, not sure if could still operate the three pedals (forward, brake, reverse), and the throttle on the column.

Sounds like flying a helicopter.

And you still haven’t sent us pics of your T!!! 🙁

Which is why electric was popular with doctors as well. They could get in and go and not risk serious injury or broken bones just to start up the car. Broken arm is bad for business for a doctor.

And probably also cause they had to make a lot of stops.

In addition to the ease of ‘starting’, there was also the fact that they were quiet in an age when doctors made housecalls at all hours).

Henry considered producing an electric car in collaboration with Thomas Edison around 1913 or so IIRC (both their wives drove electrics), but the project kept getting pushed back and was eventually abandoned around 1915 (probably because Ford realized that the market was too small; ICEs had become reasonably reliable by that time, had far more utility as well as electric starters). Anyway, IIRR details of the proposed Ford EV project can be found in “Taking Charge: The Electric Automobile in America”; Schiffer, Michael B.; 1994.

“As TIME magazine recently wrote:”

This was from a Time piece published Oct 11, 2007.

That article missed the main reason . . . the requirement of crank-starting gasoline automobiles. Once the electric starter was invented and deployed, EVs soon disappeared.

It is interesting when you think about it . . . every gasoline car out there contains an implicit admission to some superior aspects of electric motors, batteries, and generators:
1) The ability to have massive torque at 0 RPM in order to start an internal combustion engine.
2) The ability to recharge its energy storage system using available kinetic energy.
3) The ability to power all of the electrical components in cars such as lights, navigation, radios, computers, power windows, power locks, control systems, etc.

Electric cars can do without internal combustion engines . . . but internal combustion engines cannot do without electric motors, batteries, and generators(AKA alternators).


What if everything ran on gas? 🙂

Although that ad is kind of funny, but it is mostly “stupid” if anyone actually uses their brain. Their last knock at the Volt was just idiotic at its worst.

If we don’t use electric motors, the alarms can be mechanical, no need for ICE.
The microwave can be replaced with gas range. Same with coffee machine. The drills at dentist can be powered by air which can be driven outside with a pump that is ICE. The computers at work has NO electric motors anyway. Typewriters were doing the work for typing and abacus was doing the math for people.

But mostly, the industrial age happened before there is electric motors and batteries.

Nissan just didn’t understand the difference between electricity, battery and electric motors…

No, Nissan grasps those things quite well… It’s their ad agency that knows the art of dramatic license, to make a point / sale.

Well….they stole the idea from Plug-In America.

The whole point of the ad is how silly it would be if “everything” ran on gas. We (the viewer) are supposed to assume that all things shown (like the computer, microwave, dentist drill) have little internal electric generators, each powered by their own little ICE. The last shot of the Volt (which actually does have its own little ICE and generator) leaves us to equate how “silly” it is to run an electric car on gas too.

Good point about the electric starter contributing to the demise of the electric by eliminating its main advantage. I wonder also if they were a victim of the automobile’s success in general. As automobiles flourished, people lived further away from town, and range became more of an issue.

The mail post made extensive use of electric vehicles pre-1917 with the first fleet of 41 vehicles purchased being all-electric in 1914.

“the fact that electric machines are so much more simple of operation and can be easily driven by carriers, without the extra cost of chauffeurs . . . is a decided advantage in their favor”

Pre-WW1 (World War 1: 1914-1917) was dominated by electric motor vehicles, upto 1/3 of all commercial vehicles. During the war much advancement in reliability of ICE was made with many innovations and international infrastructure purecured by army’s to speed logistics. (Army’s started the war with horses and ended with trucks and tanks). The post-war era saw the first road networks were built between towns and cities to supplement steam-powered locomotive transportation.

Post-WW2 saw the first construction of interstate freeways (1950’s-1990’s) enabling greater effiency and logistics of transporting goods across America.

And the postal services should be the first to return to EVs in a big way. They are a perfect application for EVs . . . short delivery routes, stop & go driving, always return to home base to fuel, can put solar PV on post offices/distribution centers to recharge, etc.

They don’t need high speed EV either…

Perhaps a simple typographical error, but WWI lasted until 11:00 11 Nov 1918.

It’s really sad how battery research was almost completely halted after Ford and Rockefeller introduced fossil fuels. It wasn’t until portable radios were invented that better batteries were envisioned and research started anew. Just think what might have been had battery research continued. We’ve lost a lot of good people fighting over fossil energy.


That’s not true at all. Edison dedicated the rest of his life to researching better batteries, mostly because he knew that oil was not a sustainable resource.

Plus, the transistor radio was developed in parallel with alkaline batteries. They kind of enabled each other.

There are only 2 advantages to internal combustion engines . . .
1) Energy density. It is hard to compete with the massive amount of energy stored in a gallon of gasoline. Even though some 80% is wasted as heat & noise they can drive very far on 10 gallons of gasoline which does not take up much volume or weigh that much.

2) Copious amounts of waste heat that can be repurposed for heating the cabin. This is actually more of a disadvantage because they would be much more efficient if they wouldn’t have all that waste heat. But the waste heat is useful for cold climates.

Other than that, I think of any advantage. (Cost . . . but that is in the energy density.)

ICE is a heat to motion conversion device.

Electric motor is an electricity to motion conversion device.

Among all heat to motion devices, ICE is one of the better ones. Certainly better than steam engine.

Also, think of ICE as a Pump running in reverse.

pumps aren’t efficient especially when air is the material being pumped…

That is where efficiency falls apart.

Also, remember that a large amount of energy generated by the ICE is taken from the air in both the air in expansion and oxygen for energy. So, the “energy density” on the fuel doesn’t include all the energy stored in the air.

that ev probably ran a lot furthey thank a model t and also why hasnt the range changed in 100 yrs