Thomas Parker Invented the First Electric Car in 1884

A black and white copy of E. Goodwyn Lewis’s painting of Thomas Parker. Historywebsite.co.uk

Thomas Parker was not the first person to create a vehicle that could run on electricity, several others had attempted it throughout the 1800s. But Parker did manage to do something that no one else had done before him and something that others would attempt to do for decades after him.

The Elwell-Parker company started designing, building, and installing dynamos and electric lighting. In 1883 they were the first ones to install an electrical installation underground when they created dynamos and electric lighting for Trafalgar Collieries in the Forest of Dean. They were then approached to design and construct the electrical plant for the Blackpool Tramway, the first electric tramway in England.

Strangely enough, it was Thomas Parker’s electric vehicle that got very little attention. It was the first electric vehicle that had the potential to be mass-produced and truly revolutionize how people traveled. Parker was very interested in looking at eco-friendly options for transportation after realizing just how bad gas and coal were for the environment. It was to that end that he worked to power more things by electricity such as trams.

Parker and his wife Jane in 1914. Historywebsite.co.uk

Parker developed several models of electric cars, one of which he drove rather regularly despite the Light Locomotive Act. The Act stated that three men would have be in the vehicle, two to drive and one to walk in front of the vehicle with a red flag. The car was only legally allowed to go 4 miles per hour on country roads and 2 miles per hour on town roads. He was known as Wolverhampton’s (the city where Elwell-Parker was based) first motorist. He made a habit of commuting to work in his vehicles, one of which gave him 18 months of trouble-free service.

Parker gave talks to the automobile club and during one of them he complained that the hilly town of Wolverhamption did not have a single yard of level ground. He lamented that the hills and gradients prevented his progress in improving the electric car because of insufficient batteries. Eventually his cars started to gain attention and he even sent one to Paris, but the ship floundered in the channel. The car was salvaged and sent back to him.

Amazingly, being electric was not the only innovative feature of Parker’s cars. Some of them had hydraulic brakes on all four of the wheels, and four-wheel steering. These were improvements that were unheard of even once cars started to dominate the roads. Parker continued to invent and revolutionize life in England and Europe for the rest of his life, and each generation of his descendants have continued in the family tradition of inventing.