Electric Cars Built in Madison County in 1950s

 

By Matt Urtz

(Wampsville, NY) I find great humor when I hear talk of the electric car being a “new” innovation. Development of an electric motor to power carriages can be traced to the first half of the 19th century in Europe and it continued throughout the 19th century.

Electric cars possessed many features that steam and gasoline engines did not: they were quieter, odor-free, lacked prolonged start times in cold weather and boasted longer run times before stopping (over steam). Production peaked in the early 1900s before discovering the inexpensive crude in Texas that lowered the cost of gasoline.

In addition, Henry Ford’s Model T made cars far more affordable.

Electric cars became an afterthought, but were not completely out of mind.

In 1952, the Oneida Products Company in Canastota was purchased by Strong, Carlisle and Hammond. Oneida Products produced school bus bodies but had fallen on hard times. Strong, Carlisle and Hammond put the company under the umbrella of its Henney Motor Company name.

Henney had produced large-chassis vehicles such as funeral cars, ambulances and the like but, like Oneida Products, had fallen on hard times; in 1956, the factory in Canastota formally became the Henney Motor Company.

In 1959, the Henney Motor Company factory in Canastota was contracted to work on an electric car project with the National Union Electric Corporation, the Eureka Williams Corporation, the Exide Battery Corporation and a number of utility companies.

The car, which was called the Henney Kilowatt, would be produced by a combination of the companies and be used by utility companies to show the viability of the electric car. The company chose to use a Renault Dauphine chassis, which was supplied without a drive train. The Canastota facility then assembled the vehicle; batteries were supplied by the Eureka Williams Company.

The 1959 version of the vehicle utilized two 18-volt batteries and had a top speed and range of roughly 40 miles. The vehicle’s speed was questioned, so in 1960 they came out with an updated version that utilized six 12-volt batteries. The new version had a 60-mph top speed, as well as a 60-mile range on a single charge.

Unfortunately, the vehicle came in over the company’s goal of a $3,600 list price.

The company continued to market the vehicle with a goal of mass-producing it but found very little success.

The vehicle was produced for only two years, and records show only 47 vehicles were made, of which at least 32 ended up with utility companies. At most, 15 vehicles were sold to the general public.

Only four of the vehicles are known to exist today.

Matthew Urtz is Madison County historian. He can be reached at (315) 366-2453 or matthew.urtz@madisoncounty.ny.gov. Become a fan of Madison County, NY History on Facebook, and visit madisoncountynyhistory.com. Sources cited here include coachbuilt.com/bui/r/rex_watson/rex_watson.htm, coachbuilt.com/bui/h/henney/henney.htm and “The Truth about the Electric Car,” U.S. News and World Report, 20 March 1967.

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