February 25: Thomas Davenport patents the first electric motor on this date in 1837

25 February 2014

When Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Vermont, first submitted his patent around 1835 for a motor that turned electricity into mechanical force, the U.S. Patent Office simply found it unbelievable.

Davenport had been experimenting for years by that point, disassembling the first electromagnets and tinkering, often with the help of his wife Emily, who supplied silk from her wedding dress as insulation. Together they discovered the basic interaction of magnets and wires — switching the polarity of current to move the magnets and turn a wheel, just like most electric motors today. After the patent was granted on this date in 1837, Davenport became an evangelist for electric power, attempting to build electric trains, streetcars and a model electric car — the first EV. His work stunned crowds, with The New York Herald writing: "The occult and mysterious principle of magnetism is being displayed in all of its magnificence and energy as Mr. Davenport runs his wheel." Yet Davenport was a few decades too early; battery technology wasn't strong enough to provide constant power, and after several failed ventures Davenport died, broke, at the age of 48.

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