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Volume 1282
Remarkable Summer of '93
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Chicago World's Fair of 1893
Ch. 8
Ed and His Electric Flyer
July 4, 1893 
Notes & Photos
The Adventures of 
Edgar Rice Burroughs
As Interpreted by
Bill Hillman

Morrison's car with 4 riders
Morrison's 4-seater prototype

Last year, inventor William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa brought his mysterious electric carriage with its experimental battery to father's company, the American Battery Company. My father, Major George T. Burroughs, having lost his distillery business to fire in '85, has in recent years turned his energies to expanding this fledgling storage battery company, in which he serves as vice-president.

The ABC batteries previously had been used mainly for train lighting and signaling. He immediately encouraged the company to buy the rights to Mr. Morrison's invention, as he was very impressed with the potential of the machine -- seeing it as an exciting opportunity to expand the sales of ABC batteries. 

American Battery Company business cardAmerican Battery Co. office ~ 172-174 South Clinton Street, Chicago, 1901
American Battery Co. offices ~  Two locations:
Security Building, 188 Madison St. and 172-174 South Clinton Street, Chicago, 1901
Factory: 353 to 361 Twentieth St.

La Salle Street North from Adams
La Salle Street North from Adams

Soon after, father's colleagues, John B. McDonald and Harold Sturges, caught the fever and shocked the neighbourhood by commuting in the new horseless wagon from their West Side homes to the LaSalle Street office.

Father met with the Fair planning committee and they were interested in engaging a fleet of these vehicles to provide an exciting means of transportation on the Fair grounds. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to manufacture more of the machines, so they put all their efforts into showcasing the original Morrison model at the ABC display in the Electricity Building. 
Electricity Building
Electricity Building
Hemicycle of Electricity Bulding
The company received permission, however, to take the curious horseless carriage for regular excursions around the grounds and to give demonstration rides to some of the more daring potential customers. This proved to be an exciting development for me. I had tried my hand at the controls of this machine during my visits to the factory and had impressed everyone at the factory with my skill in maneuvering the vehicle. Father was quite confident that I was the right choice to pilot the vehicle on exhibition drives around the Fair grounds.

The contraption is a wonder to behold. It is designed in the style of a surrey with a fringe-topped canopy -- but without the horses.  There are four high, spoked, steel-clad wooden wheels to negotiate the streets and country roads, which are often muddy and rutted.  Although the start and stop controls of the vehicle are relatively simple, the unusual method of steering the carriage takes a great deal of practice and expertise as the vehicle fairly flies at a rate of over 15 miles per hour. Steering is accomplished by grasping a ball attached to a horizontal "steering wheel," which turns a shaft connected to Morrison's patented rack-and-pinion steering system. A powerful four-horsepower motor applies power to the right front wheel through a modified Siemens armature, and this easily pulls the two-ton weight of the unit over almost any road condition. 

Battery Storage Cells in the Electrcity Building

The 24 storage cell batteries that power the motor are stored under three cushioned bench seats, which can carry 9 to 12 people. Thanks to the quality of the ABC batteries, the vehicle can run for 13 hours at a time. The batteries -- 112 amps at 48 volts -- take 10 hours to charge but this poses no problem as each night we wire them to the charging equipment we have installed at the exhibit.

The Light House Lens, Electrcity Bulding

Two rival companies have set up nearby exhibits in the Electricity Building: the Ward Electrical Car Company and Keller-Dagenhart with their electric tricycles. Our product is clearly superior, however, being the original and having the advantage of receiving many improvements from our ABC engineers. 

Company secretary Sturges, especially, has become intrigued by the project and has spent countless hours with Mr. Morrison in improving the design. Also on display are numerous vehicles powered by noisy, smelly and very unreliable gasoline-burning and steam-powered engines. I can't imagine any way that these crude methods of propulsion will ever compete with our clean, silent, smooth running, and easy-starting carriage. 

Our steam competitors don't tell their customers that their engines often take 45 minutes to start and that they must stop continually to take on fresh supplies of water. The gasoline carriages are also difficult to start and they require a well-trained operator to shift their complicated gear systems.

Thomas Edison in his lab

Yesterday, Mr. Sturges got into a heated argument with Thomas Edison of the rival Edison General Electric Co., who is renowned for his development of electricity and for his many inventions, including the Kinetoscope -- a moving picture device that he has unveiled at the Fair. Mr. Edison said he believed gasoline, not electricity, would provide the dominant power source for the automobiles of the future. 

"As it looks at the present," he said, "it would seem more likely that horseless carriages will be run by a gasoline or naphtha motor of some kind. It is quite possible, however, that an electric storage battery will be discovered which will prove more economical, but at present the gasoline or naphtha motor looks more promising. 

It is only a question of a short time when the carriages and trucks in every large city will be run with motors."

Electricity Building Floor Plan (Click for full-screen image)
Floor Plan of the Electrcity Building

Ha! Father has his own ideas on this. He believes that a basic Morrison model can soon be produced for under $1,000, although he says the elaborate one-of-a-kind model we are exhibiting probably cost the inventor and our company twenty times that. 

Our amazing self-propelled vehicle, whether sitting in the display area or racing around the grounds, is certainly one of the Fair's most popular attractions -- an incredible achievement in this incomparable World Exposition, with its wonderful exhibits of futuristic inventions. Not a day goes by when some reporter from somewhere in the world doesn't stop by to interview one of us for a newspaper story.

Many of them are so awe-struck by the number and diversity of the inventions here that they say that everything that can be invented has been invented. We live in a marvellous age and one can hardly imagine what the next century will bring.

Today, Independence Day, was a landmark day for father's company . . . and for me. The American Battery Company just received a reward in which the judges refer in glowing terms to the ABC product as "the only storage battery made in this country deemed worthy of any notice whatsoever." This announcement coincides with the completion of repairs on the Electrical Carriage and with the decision to let me chauffeur the vehicle around the grounds. My esteemed passengers in the two rear seats for this inaugural voyage were my father, Major George T. Burroughs (V.P.), John B. McDonald (pres.), Harold Sturges (sec.), and my brother Frank Coleman and his fiance, Grace. Seated beside me was my Princess, Emma and her sister Jessie, who have been by my side through most of my recent Expo adventures. 

Electricity Building
Electricity Building

I steered the vehicle out of the Electricity building amid sparks from the powerful electric motor and cheers from the assembled onlookers. We were all thankful for the experience I've gained from my practice runs back at the factory as the thoroughfares were crowded more than usual on this special holiday.

Near collisions with fairgoers and the many obstacles on the grounds resulted in screams of fright and surprise wherever we ventured with this fantastic machine. I was kept extremely busy using the steering wheel and alternating between the acceleration and braking levers. 

An unexpected problem soon presented itself as our strange vehicle startled many of the horse-drawn vehicles we met -- resulting in numerous runaways. Coleman watched my performance intently as he has been designated to be my standby driver. 

Everywhere we went on the grounds we were met with waves of applause, cheers, screams and laughter and we soon were in the vanguard of a procession of frolicing children and dogs. Daring to take a look over my shoulder I was thrilled to see the look pride and excitement in father's eyes. Piloting that horseless carriage on its maiden voyage around the White City was surely one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. 

In open areas I accelerated to the full speed of 15 mph which made the operating of the vehicle even more difficult as Emma and Jessie wrapped their arms around me in their excitement. After an excursion down the Midway we returned to the Electricity building -- windblown but thrilled by the exhilarating experience. 

This surely has been the most thrilling of all my adventures, so far -- and there is still another four months of this Worlds Fair of 1893: The Columbian Exposition.


Submitted by Galen Handy
Photo taken at Fifth St. in Minneapolis on April 14, 1896
The riders are Harold Sturges, W. E. Haskell, S. E. Olson, Lucian Swift, and W. H. Lynn. 

Submitted by Galen Handy ~ 2006.09.14

Morrison Electric: 1887-1896 Des Moines, IA; William Morrison 1850(?)-1927. Born in Scotland Morrison arrived in Des Moines in 1880 as a chemist. In 1887 he made an unsuccessful attempt to build a car but the steering didn’t work. 
  • He then commissioned a fringe top surrey from the Shaver Carriage Company, that he electrified around the fall of 1890, to demonstrate his new battery (patented 1891)
  • It is likely to have been the first land vehicle steered by a wheel and 
  • featured his patented rack and pinion steering
  • Powered by 24 storage cells (48 Volts) with 112 Ampere-hours capacity
  • it weighed two tons and 
  • used a spur gear 
  • on a four horse-power Siemens trolley car motor
  • that Morrison rewound to work at a lower voltage more practical for battery application (about 10% of trolley car voltage),
  • this drove a large ring gear on the right rear wheel
  • As many as eleven Morrison buggies were built

This car became very influential when the American Battery Company of Chicago purchased one of them for $3,600 and demonstrated it at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition

At the fair almost everyone who would be influential in early motoring history saw the carriage. 

ABC Secretary Harold Sturges replaced the rear seat with a larger battery and entered it in the Chicago race on Thanksgiving Day 1895. Due to five inches of fresh snow on the roads the car had no chance, the motor overheated in the first ten miles. The race version weighed 3,535 lbs. 

Major George Tyler Burroughs VP of ABC estimated that between Morrison and American Battery more than $20,000 had been invested in the car, though he felt that production cost would be about $1,000 per car.

From the Brian Bohnett Collection
The Spring 1963 issue of "Annals of Iowa" featured a cover story on the Morrison Electric automobile.


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Remarkable Summer of '93
A Docu-Novel by Bill Hillman

Ch. I: Welcome to Chicago's
Columbian Exposition
Ch. 2: Invasion of the 
Boys from Orchard Lake
Ch. 3: Grand Adventure
Strange New Worlds
Ch. 4: Magic City
The White City
StereoViews: Chicago
StereoViews: Buildings
StereoViews: Exhibits I
StereoViews: Exhibits II
Ch. 5: Midway Adventure I
The Great Wheel
Ch. 6: Midway Adventure II
Exotic Lands
Ch. 7: Master Mind of 
The World of Tomorrow
Ch. 8
Ed and His Electric Flyer
StereoViews: Midway
StereoViews: Peep Shows
StereoViews: Ed's Tour I
StereoViews: Ed's Tour II
. . .
Ch. 9
Complete All-Text Version
Ch. 10
Sister Jessie's Notebook
Ch. 11
Web Refs & Appendix
PART II: Time Shift Adventure
Back to ERB's Tarzana Ranch
Ed's Tour III
StereoViews from ERB Library
Souvenirs | Tours: IV | V | VI
Back To Tarzana: All Text

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