In April of 1899, Whitney’s ESB and Pope’s bicycle monopoly merged to form the massive electric vehicle trust. This trust was meant to smash any upstart competition, whether it be electric, steam, or gasoline powered vehicles. It seemed as though this electric vehicle monopoly could stand the the test of time. Unfortunately, the true motive of Pope and Whitney was not necessarily to proliferate clean, electric driven vehicles, but to turn a profit at any cost.
The EVC trust created additional subsidiaries and absorbed competitors. New York, Philadelphia, and Boston all had newly created electric taxi companies that now operated under EVC. Siemens & Halske Electric Company in Chicago for local automobile assembly and Riker Motor Vehicle Company in New Jersey was purchased to eliminate competition. But even as they were cornering the electric vehicle market Pope and Whitney knew they had to diversify how their automobiles would be powered. Pope had seen the rise and fall of the popularity of bicycles. Therefore, EVC spent much of its efforts in securing patents. One patent of particular interest to EVC and the future of the electric car was drafted by George Selden.
Selden was born in 1846 and always wanted to be an inventor, but acceded to family pressure and obtained a law degree. By 1876, he had joined his father’s patent law firm and within two years he owned his own patent litigation practice. That was his day job, however at night he spent much of his time in his basement trying to assemble his dream: the internal combustion engine.
However, Selden could barely get a single piston to operate correctly. But what he lacked in craftsmanship, he more than made up for in his legendary manipulation of the patent system. He first commissioned a nonworking model and drawings of his machine and submitted his application to the patent office on May 31, 1879. It was rejected, and over the next 17 years his patent was rejected over an over again. But this was all part of Selden’s plan to incorporate year to year progress of other inventors into his amendments to his original patent in 1879. On November 5, 1895, Selden’s patent was accepted with 17 years worth of other inventor’s knowledge included into his worthless 1879 patent that would give him primacy over everyone else. This adept manipulation was rewarded with $10,000 plus $5,000 in annual royalties from the Electric Vehicle Company.
The timing was superb for squashing start-up automobile manufacturers because hundreds were popping up in the 1890’s. However, bad publicity from a $2 million bank loan scandal shook the stock of the company, and a factory fire coupled with defective vehicles further shook EVC at its foundations. In June of 1900 EVC began serving out infringement notices to gasoline carmakers to quell the competition. However, many knew that the Selden’s shaky combustion engine patent was “preposterous, and should have never been granted by the patent office” (Black 90) Still with EVC’s vast wealth and litigation power, it successfully crushed many gasoline powered upstarts. The trust soon realized there was money to be made licensing the internal combustion field, instead of using its vast resources to proliferate electric vehicles.
Soon a few combustion engine car companies rose above the rest to fight off upstarts and team up against EVC. Instead of fighting the old boys’ club, EVC decided to strike a deal with the powerful corporations and just collect royalties from them with their Selden patent. Thus, a monopolistic combine was born called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM). By 1903 EVC was reduced to a small group of people collecting royalties on combustion engine vehicles.
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