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Fred Allison test-drives 2nd experimental eletric car
PHOTO CAPTION: Ford engineer Fred Allison test drives second experimental electric car powered by Edison nickel iron battery at Henry's Highland Park farm in the summer of 1914. Photo courtesy of Edwin Black.

A 'Black' History of Our Oil Addiction

By Bill Moore, Editor, EVWORLD

MP3 audio interview with Edwin Black, author of Internal Combustion, on the electric car conspiracy.

Thomas Edison had spent $3.5 million between 1903 and 1910 (equivalent to $71 million today) perfecting his nickel iron battery. He claimed it was half the weight of lead acid and had twice the energy density. Electric cars equipped with it were demonstrably superior to the competition, which were powered by what we today know as Exide batteries, then controlled by a group of cartels, which sought to monopolize all forms of automotive transportation from bicycles to automobiles, gasoline and electric.

Just as Edison and Henry Ford were about to go into business together to offer a low cost electric car comparable to the Model T, a suspicious fire destroyed nearly all of Edison's West Orange, New Jersey research facility, curiously bypassing areas where the most flammable chemicals had been stored. Within months World War I would engulf Europe and eventually America and the dream of the electric car would fade into obscurity, a curious, forgotten footnote of history.

It would be Edwin Black, a best selling author whose works include IBM and the Holocaust, Banking on Baghdad and War Against the Weak, who would exhume the forgotten footnote and the overlooked collaboration between Edison and Ford in his 2006 investigative history into the conspiracy to kill the electric car nearly a century ago.

Black, who is as outspoken and unapologetic as his books, makes no bones about what attracted him to this story of turn of the 19th century avarice and corruption.


He defines petro-terrorism as a movement whose intention is to "break down our society based on our addiction to oil." And while this particular form of coercion may seem like a relatively new phenomenon of the age of oil, Black asserts in Internal Combustion that it's as old as history, beginning with kingly control of the forests to monopolistic control of coal mines to today's modern oil cartels. The control of energy has been, in his words, the pursuit of monarchs, monopolists and manipulators from time immemorial.

Black takes pains to point out that his focus as an author is on exposing the grimy underbelly of society from IBM, Ford and General Motor's involvement in the rise of the Nazi Third Reich to the eugenics movement of early 20th century.

"I have a history of investigating genocide, oppression, corporate misconduct and governmental corruption," he emphasized.

For him, the never-solved, long-ignored fire in West Orange only serves to underscore his view that some conspiracies are quite real and in the case of the destruction of Edison's laboratory, the linchpin of a concerted effort to destroy the inventor's reputation in order to keep his battery off the market, while crushing Henry Ford at the same time.

Black weaves a compelling detective story that explains why the electric car failed despite its superiority as an urban transportation vehicle in an age when country roads were mud, suburbia didn't exist and gasoline was hard to find. Compared to the quiet, pollution free, dependable electric cars of the era, gasoline models were dirty, noisy and difficult to start, but that also gave them a certain machismo in the minds of the male motorist.

But beyond that, electric cars also were stigmatized in the minds of public of that day as the tool of corporate swindle artists from the "Lead Trust" to Carl Pope's bicycle monopoly to the automobile cartel, the latter buoyed by its lock on the infamous Selden patent, which Henry Ford fought against for a decade. It wouldn't be until 1911 that Ford would finally bust the Selden patent, though his company came perilously close to insolvency in its long legal battles in the courts.

In the context of the late 1890s and early 1900s, Black explained, electric car manufacturers were the 'bad guys', a complete reversal of where we are today which sees them as a means by which to save the planet.

"These were the Wall Street financiers, the bank manipulators, corporate raiders; and they decided to quash these internal combustion machine developers; names you'd now like Dodge and Cadillac."

Their legal instrument in this fight was George Selden's patent, which he'd acquired in the decades immediately after the American Civil War, and allegedly gave him the right to royalties on any and all automobiles built in America, if not the rest of the world. The patent was, in fact, nothing more than a simple line sketch, the kind of thing you'd draw on the back of an envelope or napkin. But with it, the cartel planned to intimidate and coerce its competitors with threats of expensive, protracted lawsuits.

Oddly at the time, the gasoline vehicle developers were the populists, Black said, but they would eventually join forces with the battery, electric car and bicycle cartels to form a super cartel, and in the process the electric car was abandoned in favor of the internal combustion machine.

"The one guy who would not [join] the cartel was Henry Ford. He did not want the internal combustion machine to be available for the rich man, the bank president and for the lawyer and for the doctor. He wanted the internal combustion machine to be available for all people as a kind of liberating American way of life. He was the populist.

"Now this is the same Henry Ford who ultimately became Adolf Hitler's hero, who I have investigated for his profound Nazi and anti-semetic activities, but the period in which I am writing Internal Combustion is years before that, a decade before that, perhaps two; and as a result, he is actually the hero of this book."

Before Ford won his legal battles against the Selden patent in 1911, anyone buying his car risked being sued by the cartel. So, along with a warranty, Ford also promised legal representation for its buyers.

With the downfall of the Selden patent, internal combustion cars began to proliferate, but it was also at that point, said Black, that Henry Ford realized that he had won the battle, but lost the war as the dirty, polluting cars spread at the expense of the far cleaner electric models.

So, he turned to Edison and together they quietly set about to develop an affordable electric car for the common man, one that could be charged off a cellar generator and residential-scale wind turbine, whose power would also be stored in Edison's NiFe battery.

Between 1912 and 1914, when the fire destroyed Edison's research complex, the two men tried vainly to perfect their car, but strangely, although the batteries worked fine in Edison's lab, by the time they reached Dearborn, they would fail, be damaged or simply not perform as specified.

Both Edison and Edwin Black suspected foul play.

Reading Internal Combustion you very quickly get a strong sense of déjà vu, that we've been here before, that in fact very little has changed, apart from some advances technologically.

As Black bluntly asserts, "We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We need to exhume from where it was buried... a century ago. Whenever you get companies like General Motors who say we don't have a battery that works, or we're trying to make it work, there's new technology, it's all a lie. It's all a distraction because we know back in 1911 and 1912, the General Electric company had the Electrant, which was like a parking meter and when you parked in front of it, you plugged your electric car in and got a recharge. They had overnight charging facilities. Remember, there were no gas stations in 1911 and 1912. So, basically the idea was to recharge the battery."

On the topic of EV range, Black pointed out that some 75 percent of cars are driven about 25 miles a day, well within the capabilities of even Edison's century-old battery.

"There is no reason whatsoever that electric cars can't predominate today, except for the fact that the big automakers and the government that works with them are unwilling to undo decades of destructive automotive engineering, decades of oil addiction. It's not about... doing right for this world, right for this planet, right for our society; it's about keeping a lucrative status quo even as our climate changes, even as petro-terrorists and petro-politics put a gun to our head and a sword to our neck; and even as our American way of life and treasury is being transferred to the Middle East."

For Edwin Black, mobility is a human right, an entitlement from which everyone should be able to benefit.

"We must no longer be held hostage by those who want to control our ability to move from point 'A' to point 'B' and do so in a healthy, sensible fashion that will not make us subjugated to those in the Middle East."

One of the surprises for him personally while doing the research was the discovery of General Motors complicity in not only helping Hitler make blitzkrieg possible through its Germany subsidiary, Adam Opel, which it wholly acquired in 1931, but also its role in helping dismantle some 40 public trolley systems in cities across America.

"At the same time [they were wreaking havoc on the U.S. transit system] they were mobilizing the Third Reich to take over Europe and to destroy civilization. Remember it was General Motors that made the [Opel] Blitz truck for blitz kreig."

Black is equally outspoken about how little is being done to arrest the course we're on despite the rhetoric and the toying with EV technology.

"Bill, nothing is being done right!" he fairly shouted at me. "Nothing!"

"It doesn't matter if you and me and a million of our friends, every month throw out our gas guzzlers and convert to electric vehicles because if you and me and a million friends do that for a full year, there will still be 220 million gas guzzlers out on the road. You don't get it. The answer isn't one that you and I can solve," he asserted. "The only way that we can solve this is not through a government or any government, which has shown consistently for five thousand years that it will not follow a wise energy policy, it is my idea of the Green Fleet Initiative."

That initiative would see the huge numbers of fleet vehicles in both the public and private sector, some 28,000 strong, immediately begin converting over to electric drive and other alternative fuels. He cited commercial delivery fleets in the tens of thousands and the 100,000 taxis in the country, one third of which are replaced every year.

"If some or all of these fleets adopted a "Green Fleet Initiative" as I have outlined and say we will no longer buy any vehicle that isn't either an electric car or a hydrogen car or a biofuel car, excluding, of course, the big fake out which is corn ethanol. If some of these leading fleets said we'll drive our gas guzzlers into the ground and only replace them with these true alternative fuel vehicles, then the carmakers would beat each other to the starting line to be the first to sell en masse."

"People need to understand that we're not just going to have a picnic with the electric car if we're going fix the problem. We need to change the fleets; the millions of cars that are repaired, purchased and retired each year. The Post Office, the military, the university, the delivery company... And only when we start to do that will we truly address the problem.

"Answer me this, Why is it that Iran, facing sanctions, is now converting its entire automobile fleet within five years off of gasoline to compressed natural gas? What do they know that we don't know?

"We could move these cars off to compressed natural gas right now as a bridge technology to hydrogen cars; and remember hydrogen cars are electric vehicles," he stressed, pointing out that the fuel cell was first invested in the late 1830s.

"When is our government going to wake up?" he asked. "When are people going to demand that it makes no sense to send me a brochure about reducing carbon emissions if the company that delivered that brochure... helped kill our climate in the process, and kill our lungs in the process and kill our pocketbooks in the process and kill our way of life in the process?"

For all his fervency, Black admitted that he's not making much progress with his green fleet idea, though he believes that with a staff of six, he could make substantial headway by calling personally on fleet managers around the country.

"Everybody wants to talk about it; nobody wants to do it."

He would encourage people and companies to "ship green" and give a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval to companies who do. He also ridicules the the idea of carbon credits, comparing them to the selling of indulgences by the Catholic church during the Middle Ages.

"We need to stop right now, get on the phone and call the local sheriff, university, hospital, corporation and talk to the fleet manager... and ask them why their next 800,000 vehicles they buy, the next million vehicles they buy, the next ten vehicles they buy are not alternative fuel cars.

Black thinks that 18-year-long plans to improve vehicle mileage (fuel efficiency) is completely silly.

"Get off the better mileage dog and pony show. Who needs better mileage from a gas guzzler? Stop using those cars. When you get people trying to confuse the public with stories about petroleum reserves and stories about corn ethanol... Why is there a 54 cents [per gallon] penalty tax against Brazilian sugar cane ethanol, which is oil-free, and a 51 cents per gallon government subsidy for corn ethanol that goes right not to a farmer but to the oil companies?"

"We have to talk to our legislators. We have to get a grasp of what we're doing, and we're not going to have any ignition to this piston unless we know how we got addicted to oil and how to get off."

You can listen to the complete interview with Edwin Black by using the MP3 players at the top of the page or by downloading the file to your computer hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 player. His book, Internal Combustion, is available through Amazon.com and other fine book sellers.

1900 Ford ad offering legal protection from patent infringement suits to auto buyers