Science Art: Owen Magnetic Radiator Emblem

Scientific illustration of an Owen Magnetic radiator emblem, by Wikimedia Commons user Frank N. Stine

Scientific illustration of an Owen Magnetic radiator emblem, by Wikimedia Commons user Frank N. Stine

From 1915 to 1922, this was the symbol of electric luxury – or at least a hybrid-electric luxury car. The Owen Magnetic label was a celebrated icon of the finer things, and the electric vehicle was advertised as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds.” The more affordable Model-T was what established the gasoline combustion engine as the standard for automotive design, and after the Baker Electric enginemakers switched to war goods production, the company had to reorganize, and then went out of business two years later. The last model seems to have been the Crown Magnetic, a British model that should have consisted of 500 units. The order was never filled, but one Crown Magnetic was displayed at the 1920 London Motor Show.

It didn’t have a transmission; instead, the electric motor turned the driveshaft through a horseshoe-shaped magnet. As quoted from Henry B. Lent on Wikipedia:

The drive mechanism had no direct connection between the engine and the rear wheels. Instead of a flywheel, a generator and a horseshoe shaped magnet were attached to the rear of the engine’s crank shaft. On the forward end of the car’s drive shaft, was an electric motor with an armature fitted into an air space inside the whirling magnet. Electric current, transmitted by the engine’s generator and magnet attached to the armature of the electrical motor, providing the energy to turn the drive shaft and propel the engine’s rear wheels. Speed for the car was controlled by a small lever adjacent to the steering wheel.

I found this image on Wikimedia Commons, but Popular Mechanics has a nice photo of one of the actual cars owned by Jay Leno over here.