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Electric Vehicles of the Early 20th Century

In the Transportation Library,  we have the opportunity to assist the faculty and students of  Northwestern University’s Transportation Center with cutting-edge interdisciplinary transportation research, while at the same time getting to work with rare materials and special collections.

A 1913 catalog of Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles is just one example of historic collections that inform a very current technology.

Electric cars first appeared in the U.S. around 1890 and enjoyed popularity throughout the 1910s thanks to being quiet, clean, and easy to operate–but eventually lost out to gasoline-powered vehicles, which were less expensive and powered by what was at the time a more readily-accessible source of energy.

Detroit Electric produced its first electric vehicle in 1907 and operated through the 1930s–and returned in 2008 as a maker of EVs.


Detroit Electric Gilbert Bread

Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles Catalog. On verso: “Straight Front Panel #1 Chassis – 60 cells a4-1-2600-00-“



Detroit Electric Detroit News

Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles Catalog.   On verso: “Express Body, Drivers’s Top, 2000# Capacity. 60 cells a6-1-3000-00, a4-1-2600-00”



Detroit Electric no.2 Chassis.

Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles Catalog. On verso: No. 2 Chassis Reg. body. Carrying Space 82″ long. 47 in. Wide – 56 in. High. 1-2925-CD 60cells a6,




Detroit Electric Chassis

Detroit Electric Commercial Vehicles Catalog. No caption.



Automobiles Electriques




The library has several books on early electric vehicles, including a 1901 volume published in Paris titled Les Automobiles Electriques, by Gaston Sencier and A. Delasalle.





We continue to collect on electric vehicles, including EV technology, infrastructure, engineering, and more–and this topic is a timely one for our students and faculty. A selection of research resources for electric vehicles is featured on our Motor Vehicles LibGuide.

Current titles include the following:


 The International Journal of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

International Journal of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

The Advent of Unmanned Electric Vehicles: The Choices between E-mobility and Immobility

Advent of Unmanned Electric Vehicles

Overcoming Barriers to  Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles

Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-In Electric Vehicles


Car Wars: The Rise, the Fall, and the Resurgence of the Electric Car

Car Wars