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Golden names of Russia: Petr Freze - the creator of the electric car

Joint project of St.-Petersburg Mining museum and Forpost Nord-West.
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The name of this inventor and engineer is associated with the appearance of the first Russian car, firefighting vehicle, trolleybus and omnibus. But what is especially surprising is that then, back in 1900, he demonstrated a super-fashionable vehicle even by today’s standards.

Traditionally for the members of his noble family, Peter Freze got educated at the Mining Institute. His father was the discoverer of several gold deposits in the Urals and Altai and later the head of the Altai Mining District, and his grandfather was a major specialist in smelting and hot processing of ferrous metals and the governor of Tomsk.

However, the young man had worked at the enterprises of the raw materials industry for less than 10 years: in 1874, he retired and took up the vehicle engineering. One can only speculate why did he choose not to follow the path of a mining engineer, but it can be said with absolute certainty that the institute gave such a broad universal education to its graduates that those achieved significant successes in a broad variety of human activity fields. Pyotr Freze, got employed at a minor automobile factory and, with only three blacksmiths at hand, improved its business so quickly that the owner of the company, Karl Nellis, made him his companion. In 1876, the name of Freze was already lettered in the company’s brand name.

Their products were in great demand in the capital city. The company’s credibility grew up so quickly that in 1893 it was invited to show its vehicles at the World's Fair in Chicago. There the Russian engineer spent almost all his time in a nearby pavilion, studying the miracle of technology of that time: a self-propelled vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed by the German Karl Benz. It was one of the first production vehicles in the world called the Velo. The main result of the trip to America for Freze was his acquaintance with the manufacturer of gas and kerosene engines - Yevgeny Yakovlev. It was destiny! The entrepreneurs decided to combine their forces and together build the first gasoline car in Russia.

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In 1896 the “motor”, as the vehicles were then called, was ready. It was based on a two-seater light carriage and a one and a half horsepower engine located under the seats. The turning torque was transmitted by a chain drive to the drive axle. The car developed a speed of 20 versts, or 21 km per hour, and there was enough fuel for about 200 versts. In France, Germany and England, similar production had already been established, but on the streets of St. Petersburg it was extremely rare to find one of the European copies. Now the “carriage with an engine” had a "Made in Russia" lable.

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Freze and Yakovlev did not assemble something fundamentally new: their design was similar to the German one, but made of only Russian components that domestic factories already had in series production. Car production in Russia was to become unusually cheap. A little addition: at the early 20th century, the quality of the domestic assembly of any unit was of better quality compared to German one. It is a pity that the first Russian car was not lucky. Immediately after the tests, it was presented at the All-Russian Art and Industrial Fair in Nizhny Novgorod. The novelty aroused tremendous public interest, however, not all. The young Tsar Nicholas II, who had visited the exhibition, walked past the "motor", noting with displeasure: "There is nothing to look at! It's better abroad." The opinion of the top management, as practice shows, has always been decisive in our country. The engine of the Yakovlevskaya factory and the crew of the Freze company were noted with awards, but not a word about the main exhibit. After a few years, the emperor nevertheless signed the charter of the joint-stock company for the construction and operation of cars "Freze and Co". But Yakovlev was dead by that time, and Freze had to follow the path of inventions alone.

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The engineer began serial production of cars in cooperation with a French company. Motors, gearboxes, bridges were coming from Paris, and the bodies and the entire chassis were Russian. The company flourished. In the first three years, Freze delivered 120 machines to customers. Among his clients were the Izhora Plant, the Yeliseyev Brothers store, the Russian War Department.

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However, the graduate of the Mining Institute was interested not only in gasoline cars. The Cyclist magazine reported in 1900 that his firm had built an electric vehicle. The truth is, the battery weight was equal to 40% of the car's weight. In this case, recharging was required every 35 versts. As an example: for a modern passenger car to cover a distance of one gas tank, it would need 6 tons of such batteries. So the experiment remained an experiment. But it is still noteworthy that the Russian electric car is also attributed to Pyotr Freze.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Freze's activities were so fruitful that almost every year his factory produced a new type of vehicle. In 1901 it was the first truck manufactured in Russia. In 1902, an 8-seater open omnibus with an internal combustion engine was built on its base, which could reach speeds of up to 15 km / h. In 1902, Freze introduced an electric car, a trolleybus to put in other words. It did not need batteries, so its weight was only 820 kg. The base was a standard truck equipped with an electric motor driven by a high-voltage electric current. The current was supplied through wires. In 1904, one of the first firefighting vehicles in Russia was built at the factory. Created in a single copy, it was acquired by the Alexander Nevsky fire department of St. Petersburg. Immediately on the day when the department received the vehicle, it participated in extinguishing a fire in the outskirts of the city. It arrived at the scene 12 minutes earlier than the horse train, which proved its practicality; after that, it was put into mass production.

On January 21, 1903, the City Duma began to consider the engineer's petition to organize an omnibus transportation in St. Petersburg. This date could be the birthday of the city bus. Despite the fact that no expenses were required from the authorities (Freze undertook to cover all expenses), the petition was debated in the Duma for two weeks. When the deputies deigned to give permission, they limited it to three months. Freze declined such a "gift" considering it insulting.

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At the end of the same year, the Post Office ordered 14 vans from the factory for the Central Post Office. Yellow cars quickly became familiar to the residents of St. Petersburg. Freze & Co took over the operation of the vehicles and staffing with drivers. But on the night of March 26-27, 1904, all self-propelled vehicles burned down. The investigation did not find out the causes of the fire, but it is known for certain that the next batch was ordered to a competitor.

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In 1910, an aging engineer and businessman sold his company to the Automotive Department of the Russian-Baltic Carriage Plant. By that time, about two dozen companies were already engaged in the serial production of cars in Russia. The modern domestic auto industry would never even dream of this. Mining engineer and the father of the Russian automotive industry Pyotr Freze died on April 24, 1918 and was buried at the Nikolskoye cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Laura.