Fast Facts: Birth of the Electric Boat

Spend a day on the water in Newport Harbor and you’re bound to see a handful of Duffy Electric Boats darting around, but did you know the first electric motor to power a vessel took place on a river in Russia?

Moritz Hermann Jacobi (1801-1874) is considered the first person to make practical use of an electric motor. He built his first practical-use electric motor in 1834.

Jacobi, at the request of Tsar Nicholas I, moved from Estonia to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1835, where his work on electric motors was supported by a local science academy.

With financial assistance from the tsar Jacobi successfully completes and operates an electric-powered boat on the River Neva in St. Petersburg on Sept. 13, 1838. An account of the voyage published by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany stated the paddle wheel boat is 8 meters (roughly 26 feet) long and traveled nearly 5 miles at about 1.5 miles per hour. The Journal of the Franklin Institute, however, said Jacobi “was able to drive a twelve-oared boat against the swift current of the Neva at the rate of three miles an hour.”

Improvements were made over the next two years. Jacobi’s work earned him Russian citizenship in 1848 and several published papers, but he never claimed credit for inventing the electric motor. Instead he acknowledged the works of Giuseppe Domenica Botto and Salvatore dal Negro.

Sources: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Journal of the Franklin Institute


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