28 October 2009

Why The Horseless Carriage Will Never Catch On

I recently came across a yellowed clipping, dating from around 1900, with the following information:

In spite of the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of such inventors as Herr Benz, it is quite impossible for the auto-mobile or "horseless carriage" to ever supplant horse-drawn vehicles as a major form of local or long-distance transport. The reason? Each vehicle has but a limited storage capacity for its fuel.

As a plaything for the rich, who may rattle around their estates or in towns, and can thus return to their stable to refill this "tank" at need, this may not be a problem. But imagine trying to go by auto-mobile from Philadelphia to Baltimore, a distance of more than 100 miles by the established turnpike. Would the vehicle be able to carry the weight of the required fuel, perhaps one or more barrels, as well as the conductor and mechanic? This is an obvious absurdity. By coach this was never a difficulty, as there are several stages at which horses could be rested, or even exchanged if in haste. And of course the railway makes the journey easy, obviating the need for any road machine.

Even if supplies of motor-spirit were to be stored at these post-houses (with, it must be said, great danger of fire, unavoidable odor, etc.) how would it be brought there? By wagon or railway, of course! Hay, grain, and grazing are universally available throughout the country to supply horses, making such expensive and hazardous storage of motor-spirit completely unnecessary!

If mechanically driven transport is needed, railways have already been established and proven the ultimate in efficiency. If Mr. Astor wishes to "motor" in Boston, he would do best to load his auto-mobile on the train, and unload it at his destination. For it to get there under its own power would be quite impossible.

So though we may marvel at these fantastic vehicles as they clatter past, let us recognize them for what they are: a toy for the rich, not transportation for the populace.

People sure were dumb in those days! I guess this lack of refueling points didn't turn out to be a big problem after all. Of course recharging the batteries of electric vehicles is completely different, and forms an insurmountable barrier to their acceptance.

[Full disclosure: I made all this up.]

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