With combustion engines seemingly on the ropes, it looked like the electric automobile was destined to become the industry standard.
But the Problem Was ...
Electric cars took a knockout blow when huge oil deposits were discovered in Texas in 1901. America's suddenly giant oil supplies dropped the cost of fuel cars dramatically, which was more than enough to tip the scales their way.
Back then, the heads were shaped as middle fingers.
Electric cars weren't killed overnight -- Edison and Ford were still trying to collaborate on a commercially viable model in 1914, and one company still produced up to 2,000 of them as late as 1920 -- but the impact of plentiful, cheap oil kicked the electric car's ass right to the margins of the industry, where they remain even today.
Texas: Why driving to work every morning costs more than your rent.
How It Could Have Changed the World:
Do we need to count down all the ways that gasoline cars have become a problem? How about you instead just flip over to one of the 24-hour news channels. Within 20 minutes or so you'll see a story about a war in an oil-rich country, or global warming, or fluctuating oil prices due to a market full of nervous speculators, or car companies on the verge of bankruptcy as they desperately try to come up with more fuel-efficient options.
Left: Gas prices in May of 2008. Right: Same station in December of the same year.