A TIMELINE OF ELECTRIC AND OTHER MARINE PROPULSION
1839 Probably the first electric boat was put together by a German inventor Moritz von Jacobi in St Petersburg in Russia. The 24-foot (7.3 m) boat carried 14 passengers at 3 knots; and was successfully shown off on the Nerva River to Emperor Nicholas I of the Romanov dynasty.
1880 A small electric motor, patented by Gustave Trouvé, a French electrical engineer, was adapted to power the first outboard motor with a propeller (image right).
1882 Anthony Reckenzaun, an Austrian engineer in Britain working for the Electrical Power Storage Company, developed the first practical electric boats, including Electricity, the first significant electric launch driven by storage batteries. The 7m steel boat was used for day-trips on the River Thames. Electricity could run for six hours at an average of eight knots.
1886 Gottlieb Daimler first put a petrol engine in a powerboat.
1893 USA company Elco won a contract to supply 55 Electric Launches at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition (image below right). The rich and famous were impressed: John Jacob Astor owned four, Grand Duke Alexander of Russia and his ill-fated cousin, Czar Nicholas II also owned Elco launches. By coincidence, Daimler had his honeymoon at the Exposition – but he chose to persist with petrol motors. The company is still making electric motors for launches and yachts. The American production boatbuilder Hunter offers an Elco electric option for all its yachts.
1903 The first diesel-electric ship, the Russian river tanker Vandal, launched.
1904 The first commercial diesel-powered vessels were built. Petit Pierre – a French canal boat, 125-feet long, had a 25hp engine with a variable pitch propeller for reversing.
1912 The venerable marine diesel company Yanmar is formed in Japan; and developed the first commercially-viable small diesel for boats.