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The Electric Shock: Electric Cars Pre-Date the Civil War!

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Talk about an old idea. The first electric cars hit the scene way back in the early 1830s, 30 years before the Civil War (for the record, they're also older than the Eiffel Tower, Joan Rivers and sliced bread). In fact, the electric car was actually the first popularized car. In the year 1900, of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States, 28% of them were electric. And in 1903 electric cars outsold gasoline powered cars, representing about 1/3 of the cars found on the road in New York City, Boston, and Chicago.

So what made electric cars so popular? Basically, the reasons for its success are the same reasons people are taking a second look at electric cars today: they were quieter, smoother and easier to drive (gasoline-powered cars required gear changing, whereas electric cars did not). And on top of that, they didn't emit noxious smells or gases.

The Flattery for Batteries

The first electric carriage was created by Robert Anderson of Scotland in the 1830s. It was powered by non rechargeable primary cells -- basically, a battery. Prior to that, cars were powered by steam engines. France improved the storage battery and thereafter the electric car flourished in France and Great Britain in the late 1800s, and in the US in the early 1900s.

Since the transistor based technology limited the cars' speed to about 20 mph, in the US the electric car was marketed strictly to high-class individuals as a town car. It was also marketed as suitable for women due to its ease and safety of operation, whereas the gasoline powered car was dangerous and difficult to start. Though slow and powered by a non-rechargeable battery, the electric car's technology was promising. In 1900, the first speed record was set at 66 mph by a vehicle powered by two 12 volt motors, and the first distance record was set by an electric vehicle that drove 180 miles on a single battery charge.

How the Electric Became Endangered

So what exactly happened to cars? The decline of the electric can be attributed to two individuals "“ Henry Ford and Anthony Lucas. Henry Ford came into the picture in 1903 and with his quote "I will build a car for the great multitude," he did just that. In 1908 he perfected the mass production of internal combustion engines. The Model T could be assembled in only ninety-three minutes! Of course, that meant gasoline powered cars became more affordable for consumers. In 1912, an electric car sold for $1750 while a gas guzzler sold for $650. Additionally, Cadillac simplified the once dangerous and difficult task of starting up the internal combustion engine. As cities grew, the need for longer-distance driving grew and batteries just didn't cut it. Electric car sales peaked in 1912, and declined to obsoleteness shortly thereafter.

Of course, assembly lines and combustion engines weren't the only reason that the electric went extinct; oil also played a huge factor. When Anthony Lucas struck black gold at Spindletop in 1901, US oil production tripled overnight, making gasoline extremely abundant and affordable. This only boosted the case for gas powered internal combustion engines.

It's been 100 years since Ford perfected the production of the internal combustion engine, and gasoline powered cars still dominate the automobile market. However, unlike Spindletop in 1901, it seems the only thing skyrocketing today is the price of oil. These days, even Ford Motor Co is playing with electric cars- an ironic coda considering just how hard the company worked to outpace the technology all those years ago.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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