World’s first electric car built by Victorian inventor in 1884

This picture shows what may be the world’s first electric car – built by a Victorian inventor in 1884.

Thomas Parker: He is in the light suit in the front of the car.

Sitting aboard is Thomas Parker, who was responsible for innovations such as electrifying the London Underground, overhead tramways in Liverpool and Birmingham, and the smokeless fuel coalite.

Last week the government announced it wanted to create a mass market in electric cars in order to cut down carbon emissions.

Parker claimed he had invented the electric car as early as 1884, and he also had a hand in refining car batteries for petrol-powered models.

He also stood unsuccessfully for Parliament for the Liberal Party in the 1892 General Election, where he earned the name of “honest Tom Parker”, and was interested in establishing a metric system of weights and measures and even decimal coinage.

He died in December 1915.

The photographs of the electric car are kept by his great-grandson Graham Parker, a 76-year-old former BBC Look East weatherman.

Mr Parker, who lives in Eaton, near Norwich, said he still marvelled at the range of ideas his great-grandfather had.

“He was into anything really,” he said. “Anything on four wheels was quite a novelty, people were terrified of the things and someone with a red flag had to walk in front of it.

“Electricity was even more terrifying because it was something you couldn’t see or touch, there seemed to be quite a lot of resistance to it.”

But with the French working on a rival petrol driven engine, the inventor soon turned his thoughts to other forms of mass transport.

“I don’t think all that many were made because he was more interested in trams and tramways,” he added. “He was one of the early people thinking about pollution.

“People in London were fed up sitting in the smoke. He went down to London to oversee the electrification process.”

For the Parkers inventing was almost a family business with both grandfather, Thomas Hugh Parker, and father, Howard Edward Parker following in the tradition.

In fact Thomas Hugh Parker shared his father’s flair for design and innovation, even building a steam powered car in 1901 before later working on modern car features such as hydraulic brakes and four wheel steering.

He also claimed to have invented the spark plug, monoblock engine and the carburettor.

The tradition lives on through Mr Parker’s oldest son, Alun, who is also an engineer who has worked on projects ranging from the West Coast mainline to the Panama Canal, and Crossrail.

“It’s interesting how history repeats itself,” Mr Parker said. “But it stopped when it got to me – though somebody once commented that as a weather forecaster, I was the biggest inventor of the lot.”

Last Updated: 11:24AM BST 24 Apr 2009

Source: The Telegraph

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