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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Vehicle Energy Reclamation  
  Reclaiming the energy gained by climbing a hill on the way back down.  

This is a key feature of the new Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles, which use regenerative braking.

On reaching the top of a long and steep hill, if we do not wish to coast, we convert the motors into dynamos, while running at full speed, and so change the kinetic energy of the descent into potential in our batteries. This twentieth-century stage-coaching is one of the delights to which we are heirs, though horses are still used by those that prefer them.
From A Journey In Other Worlds, by John Jacob Astor IV.
Published by Unknown in 1894
Additional resources -

When you are going too fast and want to slow down (either to stop or when coming down a long grade), the kinetic energy of the car is used to charge the battery.

It works exactly as described more than a century ago:

Toyota engineers asked themselves, "Why not recapture some of the energy lost while coasting, slowing down or coming to a stop?" Well, that's exactly what Prius' regenerative braking system does. When the driver does any one of these three things, the system turns the motor into a generator. The energy of the wheels produces electricity, which is then stored in the batteries.
(From Toyota Prius Regenerative Braking)

So was John Jacob Astor the first person to write about this idea? The earliest reference I can find to it is something that was called dynamic brakes used on electric trolley cars in the early 20th century:

The driverís control handle had a position that cut power to the traction motors and supplied a small, finely controlled excitation current to the motorsí field windings. This turned the motor into a generator that was driven by the motion of the car. Increasing the magnetic field current increased the generating load, which slowed the car, and the current being generated was routed to a set of huge resistors on top of the car. These resistors converted the current to heat, which was dissipated through cooling fins. By the 1920s, techniques had been developed for returning that current to the power grid, making it available to all the other cars in the system and so reducing the load on the streetcar systemís main generator by as much as 20 percent. Regenerative braking systems like this are still being used in cities around the world.
(From Regenerative Braking Charges Ahead)

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Journey In Other Worlds
  More Ideas and Technology by John Jacob Astor IV
  Tech news articles related to A Journey In Other Worlds
  Tech news articles related to works by John Jacob Astor IV

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