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SNAPSHOT 294: 1904 Mildé electric postal delivery van

Charles Mildé was born in Paris in 1851 and died there in 1931.  In 1873 he founded Mildé et Fils.  He was a prolific designer, creating and patenting clocks, voting machines, electricity meters, electrical measuring instruments and improvements on the original Edison telephone.  In the 1880s and 1890s his main business was the manufacture of lightning rods.

From 1889 he held concessions for electricity distribution, first in Rouen and then in the Clichy district of Paris, for which in 1892 he created a factory in Levallois-Perret to supply the area.

He entered the automobile industry in 1897 after meeting the electrical engineer Robert Mondos. Together, they launched Automobiles Mildé & Cie in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, specialising in electric vehicles.  Their first product was a 3hp power pack and drive system, an avant-train or fore-carriage, that could be attached to the front of any horse-drawn vehicle, and in 1898 they advertised a light postal delivery van.  At the Paris Salon in 1900 they displayed a range of electric vehicles: a cab, an omnibus, an avant-train and a 3-wheeled car.

In 1901, Mildé was in partnership with the Russian-born French banker and racehorse breeder.  Together they took over the struggling Société l’Électromotion, importers of the American Columbia electrics, thus helping the French company to survive until 1907.  By 1903, Mildé were major French makers of electric cars and vans.

Our Snapshot shows a Mildé electric postal delivery van at the inauguration in October 1904 of the delivery service by vans powered by single compound-wound electric motors, with eight forward speeds, two speeds for electric braking and three reverse speeds.  These enabled the driver to match the speed of the vehicle in front without constantly needing to cut the power.  Final drive was by chains and maximum speed was around 28 km/hr.

Then, as now, it was important to listen carefully to any statements at the inauguration ceremony.  On hearing from M. Heinz, the manufacturer of the batteries, that the vans could travel 50 kilometres before recharging, the delegate from the Secretary of State’s office declared, “Oh! 50 kilometres per hour, but that’s far too fast for Paris.”

Fifteen of these vans were placed into service.  They were garaged and maintained in Rue Gutenberg, picked up their charged batteries at 5 am, returned to change batteries around midday, and ran again until 10 pm.

Mildé also developed an interest in petrol-electric machines, but because of his lack of expertise he called upon Frédéric Gaillardet, formerly chief engineer at both Doctoresse and Diamant, to take care of the petrol-electric side of the business.  From 1907 these were known as Mildé-Gaillardets, and lasted until 1912, whereas the pure electric vehicles ceased manufacture in 1909.

The Mildé name cropped up again during World War II when it was combined with another name famous for electric cars, Kriéger.  Electric conversions of La Licorne and Chenard-Walcker cars bore the name Mildé-Kriéger.

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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