Electric motive power started with a small drifter operated by a miniature electric motor, built by Thomas Davenport in 1835. In 1838, a Scotsman named Robert Davidson built an electric locomotive that attained a speed of four miles per hour (6 km/h). In England a patent was granted in 1840 for the use of rails as conductors of electric current, and similar American patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in 1847.
Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
By the 20th century, electric cars and rail transport were commonplace, with commercial electric automobiles having the majority of the market. Over time their general-purpose commercial use reduced to specialist roles, as platform trucks, forklift trucks, ambulances, tow tractors and urban delivery vehicles, such as the iconic British milk float; for most of the 20th century, the UK was the world's largest user of electric road vehicles.
Electrified trains were used for coal transport, as the motors did not use precious oxygen in the mines. Switzerland's lack of natural fossil resources forced the rapid electrification of their rail network. One of the earliest rechargeable batteries - the nickel-iron battery - was favored by Edison for use in electric cars (see photo Edison Electric Car 1913).
EVs were among the earliest automobiles, and before the preeminence of light, powerful internal combustion engines, electric automobiles held many vehicle land speed and distance records in the early 1900s. They were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and others, and at one point in history out-sold gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, in 1900, 28 percent of the cars on the road in the USA were electric. EVs were so popular that even President Woodrow Wilson and his secret service agents toured Washington DC in their Milburn Electrics, which covered 60–70 miles per charge.