Tag Archives: Munson

Early Eco Friendly Cars

As many of you know, I believe my mission in life is sharing our automotive heritage with future generations. As part of that mission, I developed Cruise-IN.com: Celebrating Indiana Car Culture to celebrate the pioneers, companies, and communities who made automotive history.

The Munson built in 1898 in La Porte, Indiana, is recognized as America’s first gasoline-electric hybrid automobile. Over the years a number of individuals have used this Cruise-IN.com resource while researching hybrid vehicles in America.

1898 Munson Buggy
1898 Munson Buggy

Kayla Russell, a science volunteer in upstate New York, is using the Munson article in teaching students about energy conservation as part of a science project. I want to salute her for her research about energy conservation and sharing the Munson story with youngsters.

One of her previous 12-year-old students, David, who is crazy about science as well as cars, did some additional research on his own and found this page about the importance of Eco friendly cars.

The article has a lot of useful information such as: 1. it took almost 100 years before development of the Toyota Prius, one of the first mass-produced hybrid cars, and 2. as more and more hybrid and electric vehicles become available, consumers are more likely to purchase these alternative cars. The article also provides nine tips to make traditional gasoline vehicles more Eco friendly and reduce pollution.

I applaud David’s in-depth research about Eco friendly cars for his class project. I see another budding auto enthusiast researching and sharing our automotive heritage. I believe he’ll be involved with autos for a lifetime.

It’s great to be able to connect with researchers, teachers, and students to celebrate car culture.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Electric cars are generally viewed as modern innovations

Today, a gasoline-electric hybrid car is generally viewed as a modern innovation. However, in fact, America’s first hybrid was born over 117 years ago. Yet, with all the innovations in today’s electric cars, we still face the same challenges of limited range per charge and a long recharge time.

Here’s an example. The Munson Company of La Porte, Indiana, is recognized as the first to produce a workable gasoline-electric hybrid car in America in April 1898.

Munson Buggy photo
Munson Buggy
The Munson Company of La Porte, IN

The Munson had many unique benefits:

  • It combined the good points of both the gasoline engine and electric motor.
  • Ten gallons of gasoline would furnish power to propel the vehicle 100 miles or more over ordinary, well-traveled roads.
  • No manual starting apparatus was required because starting was automatically controlled from the driver’s seat. This predates self-starters on gasoline engine autos by 14 years.
  • The electric motor automatically supplied the extra power required when the engine was taxed beyond its normal speed by driving conditions.
  • The required storage battery was 50 percent lighter in weight and, because it was almost constantly charged, would outlast the battery in conventional electric auto.
  • All of these features were accomplished mechanically, long before the advent of computerized controls.

Another example comes from Studebaker. The company’s first recorded sale of a car was an electric car in February 12, 1902. Auto production for the year was 20 electric cars. The cars had a top speed of 13 miles per hour and an approximate 40-mile range between charges with two passengers riding along. If this top speed seems ridiculously low, the standards of the age need to be considered. Electrics were primarily used in urban areas, where their main competition was horse-drawn carriages and buggies. Horse-drawn vehicles had a normal cruising speed of four or five miles per hour. Speed limits were very low in most urban areas. Some major cities were as low as four miles per hour. For 1902, the Studebaker electric was quite competitive.

1902 Studebaker Stanhope
1902 Studebaker Stanhope

One famous buyer of a Studebaker electric car was the inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who bought an early Stanhope, probably in late 1903 or early 1904. This purchase may have been simultaneous with his introduction of the Edison battery, which occurred in 1904. Studebaker was one of the first to adopt Edison’s new batteries. Studebaker produced 1,841 electrics over 10 years with production ending in 1912.

Interestingly, Munson’s 1898 brochure illustrates the problem the company faced by quoting Thomas A. Edison on the benefits of the gasoline engine car over an electric auto. “I believe in ten years a horse will be a rare sight. The automobile carriage is here to stay. It is now practicable, and will soon be cheap enough for general use. Gasoline will be the motive power, for it is more economical and a large supply of it can be carried. Electric storage batteries are too heavy, and besides they are not practicable.” Doesn’t this sound eerily familiar?

With all of merits of today’s gasoline-electric hybrids and plug-in electric autos, they are still plagued by the same problems – limited range per charge and a long recharge time. Only time will tell if electric cars rise or fall in popularity like they did 100 years ago.

For more information on Indiana’s auto pioneers follow this link.

Hybrid car innovation

Today, a hybrid car is generally viewed as a modern innovation. However, in fact, America’s gasoline-electric hybrid was born over 117 years ago. On April 25, 1898, the Munson Company of La Porte, Indiana, is recognized as the first to produce a workable gasoline-electric car in America.

Munson Buggy photo
Munson-Buggy
Copyright © 1898
The Munson Company of La Porte, IN

In reviewing Munson’s 1898 promotional brochure, the company’s approach to improving gasoline engine and electric car technology is noteworthy.

The Munson had many unique benefits.
• It combined the good points of both the gasoline engine and electric motor.
• 10 gallons of gasoline would furnish power to propel the vehicle 100 miles or more over ordinary, well-traveled roads at the rate of five to fifteen miles per hour, according to the conditions and gradients of the roads.
• No manual starting apparatus was required because starting was automatically controlled from the driver’s seat. This predates self-starters on gasoline engine autos by 14 years.
• The electric machine automatically supplied the extra power required when the engine was taxed beyond its normal speed by driving conditions and acted as a speed limiter when descending hills.
• The required storage battery was 50 percent lighter in weight and, because it was almost constantly charged, would outlast the battery in conventional electric auto.
• All of these features were accomplished mechanically, long before the advent of computerized controls.

Munson Factory
Munson Factory

Interestingly, Munson’s brochure illustrates the problem the company faced by quoting Thomas A. Edison on the benefits of the gasoline engine car over an electric auto. “I believe in ten years a horse will be a rare sight. The automobile carriage is here to stay. It is now practicable, and will soon be cheap enough for general use. Gasoline will be the motive power, for it is more economical and a large supply of it can be carried. Electric storage batteries are too heavy, and besides they are not practicable.”

Today’s gasoline-electric hybrids are engineered for efficiency. Thanks to the continuing development of electric vehicle batteries, the size, weight, and cost of the battery pack have been greatly reduced. In a hybrid car, a computer calculates when to let the gasoline engine do all the work and how much of an assist is required from the electric motor.

It is interesting to think that it has taken over 100 years for this technology to be efficiently packaged into a hybrid at an attractive price. We’re left to ponder if Munson would have survived to the present, if it could have designed an efficient valued vehicle?