Swedish electric car patent that was long before its time

HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. As early as 1879, a Swedish electric car was designed, several years before the first in the world was manufactured. The patent has been largely unknown until Teknikhistoria’s reporter found it.

On October 10, 1879, the Chamber of Commerce’s patent department GL Laestadii approved the electromagnetic motor as Swedish patent number 3439. This also included “The electromagnetic car”:

This wagon is propelled by the described engine, which is located in its rear, under which its batteries have their place at the front. The carriage is controlled and the speed is regulated from the front by the person sitting on the driver’s goat. ”

On October 10, 1879, the Swedish Chamber of Commerce granted a patent application for “GL Laestadii electromagnetic motor”, which also included a description of “The electromagnetic car” – 20 years before Sweden’s first manufactured electric car. Photo: MATS KARLSSON

Undoubtedly it sounds like an electric car. Although one was not manufactured until 20 years later, the first Swedish one just over ten years later. Laestadius’ patent was discovered by the author of this article by pure chance in an old newspaper.

– Fascinating! That you have imagined this, even then! What a desire for innovation! comments Gert Ekström, a technology historian who has written about, among other things, the technical development of electric cars.

Read more: The electric car before Elon Musk – from the priest to Teslan

The same year as the first good generators came

Like the earliest cars that later went into production, Leonard Laestadius’ vehicle was a three-wheeled horse-drawn carriage equipped with an engine for its own propulsion. Perhaps he was inspired by an English model from 1875, which was never manufactured due to problems with developing charging stations for the battery.

But how could the idea so early gain a foothold in a Swedish inventor?

– 1879 is a very suitable year for applying for a patent for an electric car. The same year came the first good generators, before them there were no major electric motors. Since 1880, the type of lead-acid batteries we have today has been constructed, says Christopher Sylvan, a technology historian specializing in batteries but also early electric cars.

Read more: The death of the electric car 100 years ago – that’s why the internal combustion engine took over

Laestadius’ patent mentions “a battery of ordinary elements”, which indicates that it was of an older and established type. It was probably of the type invented in 1859 by the Frenchman Gaston Planté. It had a long service life, but low capacity. The new batteries, invented by compatriot Èmile Alphonse Faure, had higher capacity but shorter life.

The electric motor was located along the rear axle of the carriage. Three crossbars with tightly attached horseshoe magnets create a forward-backward movement in that the middle crossbar moves when an alternating current repeatedly reverses the polarity of the magnets. This is transferred to the wheel axle with gears. The voltage was generated by a battery placed under the driver’s goat, plus a “current inverter” that converted the direct current to alternating current. Photo: MATS KARLSSON

Behind Laestadius’ battery motor and electromagnetic carriage were many years of development, according to the patent application. But he did not have access to the contemporary generator.

The principle of the engine was to create a forward and backward movement that was transmitted to the rear wheel axle. Laestadius placed a large number of horseshoe magnets in a row close together, attached to three parallel metal rods. The middle one was moving sideways. When the direct current from the battery under the driver’s buck was alternately polarized, it was set in motion back and forth, as the magnets on the other rods alternately attracted and repelled the center bar.

– It is about a primitive type of electric motor that can almost be compared to a large buzzer, ie a mechanism that drives the valve to turn on a bell, says Christopher Sylvan.

– This engine, if it had been realized, would probably give poor power and poor efficiency and be bulky.

The electric motor was located along the rear axle of the carriage. Three crossbars with tightly attached horseshoe magnets create a forward-backward movement in that the middle crossbar moves when an alternating current repeatedly reverses the polarity of the magnets. This is transferred to the wheel axle with gears. The voltage was generated by a battery placed under the driver’s goat, plus a “current inverter” that converted the direct current to alternating current. Photo: MATS KARLSSON

Perhaps this is the reason why Laestadius’ “electromagnetic wagon” was never built, but the patent expired after only three years. But there are more possible reasons.

Lack of money does not have to be one of them. In addition to Laestadius, three wholesalers in Stockholm were responsible for the patent, probably because they financed the development work. Perhaps the design also had more shortcomings than the engine’s low efficiency.

Laestadius was behind five patents: star clocks and remedies for cholera

Although Leonard Laestadius had a good knowledge of electromagnetism, he was not an engineer. He was the youngest child of Tornedal preacher Lars Levi Laestadius, editor of a Christian newspaper and freethinker in general.

Leonard Laestadius’ father, Tornedal preacher and revival leader Lars Levi Laestadius. Photo: TT

As an inventor, he was responsible for at least four other patents, including a water bicycle and another engine, in 1900. However, little is known about this. In addition, he designed a star clock and launched a cure for cholera.

One of the wholesalers behind the electric car patent, manufacturer Olof Öberg, is also listed for a handful of patents, among them the fire sprayer Assuranssprutan from 1883. Another of the wholesalers, Johan Ludin, was granted a patent for, among other things, a larger cabinet with shower and sink.

None of them thus seem to have had specific knowledge of vehicles or electricity. That they were generally informed about the technical development was enough. But not to get Sweden’s – or the world’s – first electric car manufactured.

Gert Ekström regrets that the vision could never become a reality.

– What if someone like Gustaf de Laval or Alfred Nobel could finance this! What if Asea had existed!

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