It’s official; electric scooters are taking over our cities. But did you know, that the first electric scooters appeared on the streets over one century ago?
Today, electric scooters are one of the best ways for commuters to get to the office while avoiding public transport. But these environmentally friendly modes of transportation are also perfect for anyone that wants to enjoy a convenient – and more sustainable – lifestyle.
The chances are, you’ve seen electric scooters in your city and might even use them yourself. According to Cision, specialists estimate that the North American e-scooter market will be worth $15.41 billion by 2029 and account for 3,182 units.
With the USA attempting to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035, it’s clear that scooters will continue to grow in popularity, as they’re sustainable and cost-effective – but where did they come from?
The First Electric Scooters
The 1800s changed how people worked and lived, becoming one of the most instrumental historical eras – the industrial revolution. Before the late 1700s, countries survived through agriculture and manual labor. This caused issues with productivity, and small-scale farming operations often proved inefficient.
Then, in the 1700s, Thomas Newcomen changed the course of history by creating a prototype for the first ever steam engine. Newcomen initially used the machine for pumping water from mine shafts, but other engineers soon decided to experiment with the technology and open up new avenues.
By the early to mid-1800s, steam trains were fast becoming the new means of transportation, taking over from the traditional horse and cart. But the growing wave of innovation had started to pave way for other creators, and in this era, another vehicle came about–the Velocipede.
The Velocipede was the brainchild German inventor, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, and its unique design paved the way for bicycles, kick scooters, and the autoped – the first electric scooters.
The Autoped – The First Electric Scooters
Kick scooters provided an exciting way for people to travel around cities, but inventor Arthur Hugo Cecil Gibson wanted to push things further. He decided to follow in the footsteps of the battery-operated bicycle by creating a motorized scooter.
He filed for a patent in 1913, and the transport device became known as the Autoped. In many ways, it was similar to the electric scooters we know and love today, but it still had some differences. For example, these first electric scooters were far bulkier than the sleek e-scooters we have now.
Gibson’s mission was to make an invention that was lighter than other transportation options and one that would allow people to get to where they needed to be conveniently.
The patent came into effect in 1916, and the inventor set up a factory in Long Island, New York, to manufacture the scooters and sell them for $100 (what would be valued today as $2,718 ).
What Made the Autoped Special?
The Autoped would play a significant role in the history of electric scooters due to its originality and practicality in helping people move around.
Though the device was gas-powered, it was a giant leap from the traditional wooden kick scooter, and the company had every reason to believe that the Autoped would revolutionize short trips.
Let’s take a look at the specs:
- Battery from the Eveready Battery Company
- Engine mounted over the front wheel
- A four-stroke engine (Air-cooled, 155cc)
- Speeds of up to 30 miles per hour
- Portability due to a collapsible steering column
- Activated brakes
Advertisements for the Autoped claimed that the scooter was “Light, easily operated and easy to ride.” The company even called it “the motor vehicle of the millions” and said it could run 125 miles on just one gallon of gasoline (Smithsonian).
While we now know the issues that gas-powered scooters can cause the environment, it’s important to remember that these devices were a colossal move forward in the 1900s, as they were the first installation in the micro-mobility revolution we’re continuing to refine to date.
Why the Autoped Remains a Part of Electric Scooter History
When the inventor first released the Autoped, it created somewhat of a motorized scooter boom, and professionals loved using it. Among the most enthusiastic groups were the US Mail Service, Military, and even Suffragettes, including Lady Florence Norman. Unfortunately, it failed to take off as a mainstream product.
Its failure was surprising when you consider how aggressively the manufacturers promoted these first electric scooters. However, as motorized bikes and motorcycles grew in popularity, the Autoped struggled to compete and was ahead of its time in many ways.
The lack of a proper seat meant many upper-class people decided to invest their money in other means of transportation, and the cars of the early 1900s would prove to be more convenient for families.
However, the Autoped would make its mark in history and pave the way for the modern electric scooter.
The 1980s – A Generation X Revolution
Often called the ‘yuppie decade’ or the ‘decade of greed,’ everything was bigger and better in the ’80s. Yes, the 1980s are one of the most beloved decades because they changed how people saw leisure time.
There were music videos, awesome toys, the birth of the arcade, and hairstyles that seemed to defy gravity – but the 1980s also spawned a scooter resurrection.
While cars, electric bikes, and motorbikes continued to expand and evolve into faster and sleeker models, the electric scooter seemed to fade into oblivion. However, all that changed in the mid-1980s when one family decided to breathe new life into the ultra-convenient and portable scooter.
In 1985, Steve Patmont patented his motorized scooter, Go-ped, and a revolution began. The Patmont family started their business in a garage and soon expanded to be the world leader in scooters with quite a loyal following.
While the scooters started as gas-powered models, the company once again broke new boundaries when it released an electric scooter in 2001.
Razor – The Hungry Episode that Created a Revolution
While Go-ped revolutionized the scooter, people fondly remember the Razor as the scooter that reignited the world’s love affair with the more compact alternative to bikes. Most people probably had a Razor-style scooter in the early 2000s (they were so fun, weren’t they?)
It all began when Wim Ouboter decided he wanted to visit his favorite sausage shop in Zurich, Switzerland. The shop was (in his opinion) too far for a walk but not far enough to break out his city bike – which caused an internal conflict.
OK, so Ouboter was probably a bit lazy, but this small dilemma soon became a millennium trend that solved every parent’s ‘What should I get the kids for Christmas?’ problem.
Ouboter wanted to take the original scooter design and modernize it – so he did.
After some uncertainty and issues with business partnerships, the inventor finally found his dream production partner and allowed them to commission the scooter in the US under Razor.
The Craze We All Remember
Razor scooters were sleek, easy to use, and showed the world that traditional kick scooters could be as cool as bikes, skateboards, and roller blades.
Parents especially loved these toys because they were safe for children and relatively cost-effective, which explains why these scooters became a commercial success.
Razor estimates it’s sold over 50 million kick scooters and 15 million electric scooters and continues to evolve and reinvent personal transportation.
However, it wasn’t all smooth riding because the micro-mobility market is competitive, and new inventions would soon question the validity of Razor scooters in an ever-evolving world.
New PEVs Steal the Show
It might surprise you that Segways were invented in 1999 and only released later in 2002. The manufacturer defined it as a unique self-balancing transport device, and the projected sales were very impressive.
However, despite all of the market hype surrounding Segways, the public perception of this innovative mode of transportation was less enthusiastic.
The company only sold 23,500 units in five years, a poor performance considering they invested around $100 million in designing the Segway.
A glimmer of salvation was felt when Jimi Heselden bought Segway Inc with the aim of turning the public perception around. However, this dream was short-lived, as Heselden met his untimely end in 2010 when he accidentally fell off a cliff while using his Segway (BBC).
Despite numerous exchanges, the sale to Ninebot paved the way for new inventions, including the SE3 Patroller, for safety personnel. The company continues redefining the meaning of personal electric vehicles.
The Rapid Rise of the Hoverboard
The hoverboard gained worldwide popularity in 2015 and quickly became the ‘must have’ product for teenagers. Let’s face it, these hoverboards look like they’re straight out of Back To The Future, and the sleek design made them the sexier way to travel. The devices are essentially self-balancing scooters that people could use to travel to class or make short journeys.
However, there were always going to be problems. One significant issue is the lithium-ion battery technology, which causes many hoverboards to catch fire. A simple case of overcharging can damage the hoverboard, and the CSDC reports that since 2015, hoverboards have caused over 250 fires, including some fatalities.
And while hoverboards aren’t illegal in the USA, states have the right to set their laws, and many regulate them due to the numerous safety issues (Gadget Review).
The Modern Electric Scooter Era Begins
So, Razor made waves with electric kick scooters, and Segway popularized the idea of micromobility. But how did we go from these models to the scooter-sharing programs we have today?
Well, while Segways are ultra-cool, they were never going to become the primary mode of personal transportation due to their bulky frames.
Electric bicycles have the same problem, and while they’re more compact than Segways and safer than Hoverboards, the electric scooter design offers more flexibility and convenience.
Let’s look at some factors that paved the way for the e-scooters we know and love today.
Technology Gets Better and Less Expensive
The scooter revolution would happen at some point, but the technology had to be there. One of the major concerns for manufacturers was the cost of batteries, which was one of the reasons for Segways not becoming a mainstream mode of transportation.
However, battery prices fell between 2010 and 2016, meaning manufacturers could lower their costs by around 86%, resulting in more options to create high-spec scooters.
With these technological advances, scooters can now travel longer distances and compete with electric bikes and cars.
Companies like Uber and Lime made ride-sharing famous, with people constantly ditching personal vehicles in favor of a cost-effective commute. Most city streets have offered rental e-bikes for a long time, but Bird introduced the first electric scooter sharing program in 2017.
While many associate the concept of scooter sharing with the USA, students in Singapore coined the idea and launched the Telepod pilot to evaluate whether it had any grounds for success.
By 2017 Bird e-scooters became available for people in Santa Monica, and the company achieved a net worth of $1 billion in just one year.
As soon as people saw how much money they could make from scooter-sharing programs, others began to compete. Soon, e-scooters would be a staple in major cities across the world.
Private Electric Scooters Gain Traction
While scooter-sharing initiatives continue to be popular, privately owned models are also making waves in the USA. They enable people to own a scooter and can often be a safer alternative to renting.
Each state sets its laws, as you can see from this informative guide, and private scooters are solving numerous issues that rental models create.
Owners are more likely to maintain a private model and take better care of it, which is a blessing considering many ride-sharing scooters end up in rivers, landfills, or create obstructions in the road (Slate).
What Might the Future Hold for E-scooters?
It’s incredible to see how electric scooters have become the eco-friendly way to commute and travel, but do they have a future?
Yes, of course. For people living in a modern city, these convenient devices are a miraculous invention that offers so much bang for their buck.
Have there been some minor issues with scooters? Absolutely. But, it was the same thing with cars, and all technological advancements take time to catch on.
Let’s take a look at how scooters could be a part of the future and evaluate any obstacles that might stand in their way.
Protecting the Environment
It’s no secret that there’s a worldwide effort to protect the planet against global warming and preserve it for future generations.
A UN report shows that cars and other modes of gas-powered transportation contribute to one-quarter of the world’s carbon emissions, and cutting these would go a long way in reducing the impacts of climate change.
Electric scooters have powerful motors that enable people to travel at high speeds (in line with the legal limit), but they run on electricity, which is significantly more sustainable than gas.
As society moves towards the electric car, many commuters worry about how much they’ll have to invest in transportation. The average cost of an electric vehicle is $56,437 (CNBC), while electric scooters range from $900 for a commuter/city scooter to $7000 for an off-road scooter.
While these two-wheeled vehicles aren’t suitable for families, they’re more cost-effective than cars and perfect for people who need a way to travel from A to B.
Electric Scooter Versus an Electric Bike
Now for the big question; can electric scooters beat e-bikes? Both have an electric motor, are sustainable, and are much cheaper than cars. However, e-scooters are more accessible than bikes and offer a higher level of versatility.
They’re better to store, easier to park, and can maneuver through traffic more effectively due to their compact frame. A UK safety report also shows that scooters result in fewer accidents than e-bikes, making them the clear winner in our opinion.
It’s a Bright Outlook for Electric Scooters
As countries continue to find new ways to improve sustainability, the transportation sector will likely see the most changes.
A report by Interesting Engineering estimates that electric vehicles (EVs) will make up 56% of the global transportation market, and there will be more electric charging stations than gas stations.
Electric scooters will likely continue to grow in popularity and serve as a welcome alternative to the more expensive electric cars.
As cities become more congested and more ‘mega cities’ emerge, 70% of the world’s population will live in a city environment, and electric scooters will be instrumental in reducing congestion.
While we can’t know what the future holds for electric scooters, it’s clear they’re not going away any time soon – and we couldn’t be happier about it.
It’s an exciting time to be alive, and there will probably be many advancements that will make today’s e-scooter look like yesterday’s Autoped.