|Andrew L. Riker|
The starter cries, "Now go, if you can!" and seven drivers throw their vehicles into gear. At once, Andrew Riker pulls into the lead, literally leaving his competitors in the dust. He blazes around the track at a shocking 24 miles per hour and comes "dashing over the finish line, his body bent forward as though holding the reigns over some spirited steed." As the car Riker invented rolls to a stop, the cheering crowd rushes forward for a closer look.
That car, by the way? It hasn't got a gas tank.
The Riker Electric Trap has leather seats and wheels that are spoked, like a bicycle's. It weighs 1500 pounds, more than half of which come from the lead-acid battery pack. At a speed of ten miles per hour, it can travel for four hours before the batteries need to be recharged. The car starts with the flick of a switch, runs quietly, doesn't rattle its passengers, and produces no noxious exhaust. And thanks in part to this race, it's about to launch Riker's career as a successful automaker, respected inventor, and the very first president of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
|The 1896 Riker Electric Trap|
Thanks to rising gas prices, air pollution, and climate change, however, there's more interest in electric vehicles today than there's been since the 1920s. And thanks to some major battery breakthroughs, they might just replace gasoline cars - before we run out of oil.
Stay tuned for Part 2 - The Battery Revolution!
You can find more information about Andrew Riker and his vehicles here. More details on the Narragansett race are available in volume 1(11) of The Horseless Age, and in the September 19 and September 26 issues of Scientific American (1896).