Germany & Austria
The "Elektromote" - Werner von Siemens.
It is almost 130 years since the first electric bus in the world made its debut. On the 540-meter test route in Halensee – on what is now the Kurfürstendamm – Werner von Siemens presented an invention he had been working on for decades. In 1847 the company’s founder had already described his idea to his brother Wilhelm: “When I have time and money I want to build an electro-magnetic hackney which will never leave me in the lurch.” This plan was to become reality at the beginning of the 1880s.
Werner von Siemens rebuilt an open hunting carriage so that it could move without horses or rails. The vehicle, which was to make history under the name of “Elektromote,” was provided with electric power via an overhead line. A small eight-wheel contact vehicle moving along this bipolar cable served as a current collector. It had to be separately weighted in order not to topple off the overhead line. The contact vehicle was connected with the carriage by two flexible copper cables. These ran down a wooden mast mounted on the carriage to the two main current engines beneath the driver’s seat, which drove the back wheels via steel chains; a functioning differential had not yet been developed.
The two 3 hp motors with an operating voltage of 550V direct current enabled the vehicle to reach an average speed of 12 km/h. The driver steered it by means of a mechanism on the front axle, but had little freedom of movement as he had to keep alongside the 50 steel masts which carried the overhead line. To generate the electricity, the head engineer at Siemens & Halske, Carl Ludwig Frischen, built a small power plant in a nearby shed. It consisted of a steam engine connected to a dynamo.
However, the “Elektromote” never progressed beyond the initial stages, in spite of the fact that in October 1881 Werner von Siemens obtained permission from the city of Berlin to build a test route for the vehicle – although with the injunction that he “must kindly ensure the necessary precautions are taken to prevent of any accidents as a result of the operation of the steam engine (for generating electricity) and the road vehicle.”
Schiemann trolleybus on the Bielatalbahn route between Königstein and Bad Königsbrunn, 1901
Even though the “Obus” was less expensive than rail vehicles, Werner von Siemens stopped the tests in Halensee in the middle of June 1882. The reason was the poor roads which presented numerous hindrances to the progress of the carriage. There were also no rubber tires for vehicles at that time. In addition, the mid-1880s saw an increasing electrification of horse-drawn streetcars and at the same time the electric streetcar was technically refined. The “Obus” technology was initially forgotten.
In around 1900, the engineer Max Schiemann, in partnership with Siemens & Halske, started building and developing the “Elektromote” again. He improved the drive and the current collector as well as making the vehicle more comfortable. As a result, from the 1920s on, the “Obus” became a popular electric vehicle on an international scale.