On This Day In EV History: Electric Car Wins U.S.’ First Auto Race


*First race on a track

Electric vehicles are upsetting the racing apple cart, winning some pretty historic races. Perhaps the most significant was this year’s evisceration of the Pikes Peak record by Romain Dumas in the Volkswagen I.D. R. But fans (and historians) know that races were being won under the influence of battery power a long ways back. In fact, the first auto race held in the U.S. on a track, as opposed to cross-country events, was won by an electric car on this very day back in 1896.

Yup, before the 20th century cracked open, a race was held to promote automobiles and it was a pretty big deal. Over 60,000 people showed up at the Narragansett Trotting Park –  a horse racing track a mile in length – located in Cranston, Rhode Island on the outskirts of Providence, to watch two electric horseless carriages challenge five gasoline-powered ones.

According to History.com, the start was a slow one, with the crowds yelling the then-popular refrain, “Get a horse!” Before long, though, the entry by The Riker Electric Vehicle Company (Andrew L. Riker, proprietor) was ahead. At the end of five laps, the fastest of which it covered in 2 minutes, 13 seconds, the Riker machine was the first to cross the finish line with a total time in the neighborhood of 15 minutes. The other EV, from the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, trundled into second place followed by a petroleum-powered machine from the Duryea Motor Wagon Company: an outfit responsible for the very first automobile sales in the United States.

The event was great for Riker –  he won $900 (about $27,000 in today’s money) –  and for automobile race tracks, which immediately began springing up in cities around the country. As we know, though, the electric vehicle’s success of that era was short lived, ending for decades after, ironically, Cadillac introduced the first electric starter on a production automobile in 1912.


Source: History.com

Categories: General, Racing


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7 Comments on "On This Day In EV History: Electric Car Wins U.S.’ First Auto Race"

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Ironically our media seems keener to talk about EV history from the late 1890’s than from the late 1990’s. Toyota’s original RAV4 EV (1997-2003) is still barely known by the public largely because it’s very rarely mentioned by the media.
Even more buried and taboo: BMW’s normal-looking 1991 4-seat ‘E1″ EV had a TUV-tested range of 150 miles – the 1987 325ix “only” managed 93 miles.
But we all knew that right ? (The first BMW i3 – 25 years later – had an EPA range of just 83 miles)
And there’s the rub and the truth-exposing irony: journalists know that carmakers don’t want the public to be reminded about recent, buried, truth-exposing EV “history” so they leave it buried – whereas “ancient” history from the late 1890’s is no longer politically embarrassing for carmakers – so journalists have no problem reminding their audiences that these electric jalopies once briefly ruled the roads and race-track.
Link to recent (ssh!) BMW EV history(from 1970’s on..) – BMW would prefer you not to be aware of most of it:


Paul G

This site covered the BMW E1:

It says BMW originally claimed 93 city mile range. It does mention a later version with a NaNiCl, that must have been the (unverified) 150 miler.

I think some makers tryed it, but maybe it was soon for market and technology. I live in Spain and I remember in 90’s the Peugeot 106 and Citroen Saxo electric, two small city cars with 27 hp, and 80-100 km range. They weren’t popular cars, but was a serious attempt from PSA, that sold 3500 units.

PSA made a pair of hybrd cars in 2000, the Citroen Xsara Dynalto (HEV) and Dynactive (PHEV) with 20 km of electric autonomy. Both cars were fully functional, ready to production, but it was too soon for european consumers and never become reality.

Fun fact, thanks!

I love the “On This Day In EV History” concept — please make it into a series (or continue it if it is already & I missed it (-: …)

Thanks, Domenick!

I’m with Wavelet; are there any previous “This day in history” articles at IEVs?

It’s good to be reminded that there was an era when it wasn’t clear that gasmobiles would become the clear market winner in automobiles, beating out early EVs and steam-powered cars. Gasmobiles didn’t win because they were initially superior to the competition, but because gasmobile tech improved rapidly, leaving EVs and steam cars behind… literally as well as figuratively. 😉

In the modern era, it is BEVs which are improving in tech rapidly, soon to leave gasmobiles behind… finally!

I wish there were kits for making historical reproduction EV’s…