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Early 20th century photo doesn’t show first electric scooter in history

“The first electric scooter in history, London 1916,” reads the caption of a black and white photo of a woman in an old-fashioned dress and hat, standing on what looks like a motorised scooter.

The photo was posted on the Facebook community page “Electrical Engineering World” with no other context. 

But several comments on the post argue that the photo actually shows a petrol-powered scooter. “Just need eyes to see the petrol engine bro,” reads one. “It's petrol engine scooter but glade to see it's design still same,” reads another. 

Is the vehicle really the “first electric scooter in history”?


 

‘The suffragette on a scooter’


A Google reverse image search leads to Getty Images and reveals that the woman in the photo is Lady Florence Norman, an English suffragist born in 1883. As well as women’s suffrage, she also advocated for the anti-slavery movement and other political causes.

The scooter she’s standing on was a birthday gift from her husband, the politician Henry Norman. Given that the couple have been described as “predominantly London based, to fit in with his political duties”, it is reasonable to assume that the photo was taken in London.

Getty Images credits the photo as being taken “circa 1916”, as do other sources.
 

Not quite world’s first scooter


Norman’s vehicle seems identical to the Autoped motor scooter in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC in the US. 

But the scooter doesn’t appear to have the large and distinctive “Autoped” logo on the left of its front wheel.

And its similarity to the Autoped, which had a four-cylinder petrol engine, suggests that Norman’s scooter was also not electrical.

The Autoped was also built by the Autoped Company of America in 1918, not 1916. But Norman’s scooter seems identical to a two-horsepower autoped called the Everready. 

Motor Cycling magazine described the Everready as the “first petrol scooter to reach England” in January of 1917. This would suggest that Norman’s picture was taken either late in 1916, or in 1917.

Motor Cycling also explains that while the large black box visible at Norman’s feet does contain electric batteries, these power the scooter’s front and rear electric lights and not its engine. The Smithsonian says Everready did eventually make a battery-operated Autoped.

The Autoped was marketed as “an ideal short distance conveyance for business or professional men or women”, and was the successor to the Motorped, first manufactured in 1915.

This photo shows suffragist Florence Norman circa 1916, and was most likely taken in London. But Norman is not standing on “the first electric scooter in history”. It is a petrol-powered scooter, most likely the Everready. – Keegan Leech

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