What is interesting is that the idea of an electric car is by no means modern (at least not in the common sense of this word), as electric vehicles predate the ones using internal combustion engines by almost two decades. The first functional electric vehicle has been built by Gustave Trouve in 1878 and presented publicly on the Exposition internationale d’Électricité, a technological exposition held in Paris in 1881. There was already some interest in electric vehicles when Gottlieb Daimler constructed his internal combustion engine in 1878 and then presented the first vehicle using such motor in 1885. The electric car build and piloted by Camille Jenatzy, Belgian engineer and famous race driver was the first manned vehicle in human history that broke the barrier of 100 km/h (reaching 105.9 km/h) in 1899.
The main problem with the electric cars that haunts the design to this day, although to much lesser extent, were the batteries. The engines were very efficient, and compact and durable in comparison with contemporary IC motors, but the available sources of power were far less advanced, severely limiting the range and significantly contributing to the mass of the vehicle (if memory serves, the battery in Trouve’s trike was heavier than the rest of that lightweight vehicle). This is why French even designed and tested an electric propulsion in the Char Saint-Chammond tank presented in 1916, although the two electric engines, one for each track, had to be powered by an on-board generator using 90hp IC motor. Quick advances in the internal combustion technology quickly rendered such solutions, as well as the general usage of electric engines for common transportation obsolete for almost a century.
The introduction of cars was rather gradual, as they were relatively expensive vehicles and initially were used only by the wealthier people, especially from the upper middle class. That said, the introduction of cars was definitely not a shock even to the people living in rural areas, who were already familiar with steam locomotives, other steam machinery, balloons and ships, not to mention urban dwellers, who were seeing such machines on daily basis. With the advent of airships and airplanes, the cars could have been seen as a wonder in miniaturization, but definitely not an unusual device (this distinction was for a short time reserved to the airplane).
It doesn’t mean, however, that the car was immediately accepted on the road. Mr. Toad from *The Wind in the Willows* might seem like a comical character from a children book, but for Grahame it was an archetype of a thrill-seeking, carefree, well-off motorist, a product of the era. Cyril Joad in his 1926 book *The Babbitt Warren* also criticizes the new fashion, stating that ‘*motoring is one of the most contemptible soul-destroying and devitalizing pursuits*[…]’ and paints the motorists as egotistic pleasure-seekers. Many commentators between late 1910s and 1930s, when the cars ceased to be a symbol of status and became a relatively commonplace tool, often criticized the noise caused by the vehicles. Given that the rules of the road were non-existent or poorly fit to motorized vehicles, engines were far from perfect, the mufflers were not mandatory and anti-knock agents were introduced only in mid-1920s, honking, knocking and backfiring was very common, so were the complaints of the carriage-drivers that the new vehicles are scaring the horses and thus harming the road safety. In rural areas this was additional exacerbated by the damage caused by motorists to smaller homestead animals (poultry, dogs, cats, sheep etc.) that could have been easily killed by a new danger. It comes as no surprise that early motorists were criticizing ‘conservative’ villagers who swore by the horse transports (sometimes not aware that peasants usually were unable to afford the car and fuel) and who, according to them should take more care about safety of their animals. Newspapers from the era contain many articles on that topic ranging from comical to tragic. Of course, the human casualties were a hot topic – people, even though accustomed to machinery, were often unaware of the speed a new car could have attained what could easily lead to a a disaster if they tried to cross the street used to the fact that most vehicles (carriages and wagons) were moving at a walking pace, what also applied to ubiquitous children playing in the street. Rising clouds of dust that enveloped passers-by on unpaved roads (read – most roads outside the cities), although far less dangerous, was still considered a health hazard, especially for young people. Additionally, the introduction of motor-cars quickly raised a concern over the natural environment, with some areas considered worth preserving being quickly covered by the ban on automobile traffic as early as the 1900s.
Some people decided to take the matters in their own hands and fight the devilish invention. Newspapers, diaries and court documents from the 1910s and 1920s contain numerous cases of peeople throwing stones or dung at the cars, what according to some was quite prevalent in the Netherlands (relatively rural country). Farmers were also not above plowing the roads or digging ditches across the roads to slow down cars of make roads impassable (this seems to be more common in USA, as we’re speaking of the times close to and during the Great War, when damaging roads could have been easily construed as a sabotage and punished harshly). Scattering broken glass was also not uncommon. Angry shouts and curses were par of the course, especially on country roads where people were prone to speeding. The German penal code of 1909 made it explicitly acceptable to leave the scene of t accident if the motorists felt that their health or life might be in danger (on account of enraged witnesses), provided they will report themselves to the police on the following day at the latest. On the other hand, it took some time for people to accept that they should keep to the side of the country road or to the sidewalk, as before the advent of the cars, it was common for pedestrian to use any part of the road. Strolling down the ‘incoming’ lane and passing the slow carriages by moving to the middle of the road was perfectly normal in smaller cities. This situation slowly evolved into the introduction of traffic codes and ubiquitous speed limits in the 1930s. There was also an economical side to the opposition. Many famous resorts, especially in the mountainous areas, quickly introduced complete ban on the car traffic as early as late 1890s, partially to preserve the peace and silence, but also to make the investments in railways profitable. And although the bans were quickly lifted in many areas, in some of them (like Switzerland) they were maintained well into 1920s.
By the way, there was never a regulation that a car had to move with a ridiculously slow speed and have a man with a red flag walking before it. Such regulation existed from 1865 to 1896 but it was limited to ‘land locomotives’, i.e. various vehicles using steam engines (steamrollers etc.) and was introduced because such a machine was heavy and hard to stop (it basically lacked brakes of any kind) and steam engine could malfunction, causing injury to passers-by.