Electric Cars on Display at the World’s First Car Show

At the very first car show, held in Paris in 1898, gasoline-burning cars were not alone, and were not even the only stars of the show. There were a few steam-driven cars, as well as numerous electric cars, to attract the wonder of the 140,000 visitors who filed through the exhibition in the gardens of the Tuileries. 

At the turn of the 20th century, electric cars had by no means been eclipsed by their gas-driven counterparts. Gasoline was expensive, and not readily available. It was sold through drugstores. The June 25, 1898 issue of L’Illustration magazine contains a report on a tour of the exhibition; the writer tells us that the electric cars on display were the ones that had taken part in the recent competition for horseless carriages held by the ACF (Automobile Club de France), and noted that the vehicles pictured were quite capable of negotiating Paris traffic.

He went on to explain that with 5-hp motors powered by 44 accumulators, they had a range of 70 to 100 km – more than enough to get around in Paris. The batteries of those days were made of lead. The writer wondered how long the batteries would last and what the replacement cost would be, but these were the only disadvantages he attributed to electrically driven vehicles.

Writing in the scientific periodical La nature, Édouard Hospitalier noted that electric cars had been allotted a generous portion of the space available at the exhibition, just as they would soon be dominant in transporting travellers around major cities. He added that apart from the eleven electric vehicles that had taken part in the ACF’s competition, there were at least a dozen electric cars exhibited by other competitors, for a total of two dozen representatives of electric power for use on the roads of France, a figure he found highly encouraging.

His article had an interesting conclusion: he could not say enough to encourage his readers to visit the show; they would come away convinced that the automobile industry, so full of promise a scant two years earlier, was already offering a multitude of products, and showing signs of an even more productive future.