At 7.30 am on Monday 15th July 1907 the first electrobus picked up its passengers at Victoria Station and set off on a four-mile trip across central London to Liverpool Street station. This was the world’s first practical electric bus.
The stage was set for an epic struggle over the future of transport. Petrol vehicles were just beginning to replace horse power. But petrol buses were widely reviled for their noise and evil fumes. They were also expensive and unreliable, to the point where some bus companies abandoned petrol power and brought back the faithful horse. Would the future belong to electricity, petrol, or even steam? It was the question of the age. If the electrobus succeeded in London, the world’s largest city, then the repercussions would be felt around the world. But little more than two years later the electrobus vanished from the streets of London.
The electrobus never stood a chance, as Mick Hamer reveals in A Most Deliberate Swindle. A gang of fraudulent financiers systematically siphoned off nearly all the money that shareholders had invested to put electric buses on the streets of London. It was one of the biggest white-collar crimes of Edwardian times. It wasn’t just Edwardian shareholders who lost their nest eggs. Over a century later, the consequences of this financial scam are still with us as cities choke on the exhausts of the internal combustion engine.
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What others say:
That London could have had electric buses a hundred years ago is extraordinary enough, but as Mick Hamer recounts with great panache, the reason it didn’t is even more extraordinary. This is a great tale, expertly told.
Michael Palin, January 2017
It is a remarkable story – on one level a ripping yarn, but on another a grim reminder of how we let the internal combustion engine run riot for more than a century.
Walt Patterson, Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources, Chatham House
Mick Hamer has meticulously pieced together a fascinating tale of intrigue and deception that may have killed off the electric bus for a century, a most unwelcome consequence from which we have all suffered in terms of air pollution ever since. A good read even if you are not interested in buses.
Norman Baker, Managing Director The Big Lemon and Transport Minister 2010-2013
You can find further reviews of A Most Deliberate Swindle, including those that appeared in Nature, the Law Society Gazette and the Climate News Network on the reviews page.