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Riker electric automobile
Catalog #: 310,470, Accession #: 118,161
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection
This closed-bodied electric automobile, built by the Riker Electric Vehicle Co. of Elizabethport, N.J., was donated to the Museum in 1932. The Electric Vehicle Co. of Hartford, Conn., made its motor. The donor also gave the museum a motor-generator set (used in the car's garage to charge the batteries overnight) that was made by the Wagner Electric Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis, Mo. This vehicle's resemblence to a horsedrawn vehicle led the curator who collected it to describe it as an "electric brougham." Designed to be chauffeur-driven, the car was luxurious by the standards of early automobiles.
Physical Description
This electric automobile’s tubular front and rear axles are connected by tubular side members, and the frame is strengthened by short tubular diagonal members. The four wheels are of the artillery type, having wooden spokes and felloes. The tires are of solid rubber. The front wheels, 30 inches in diameter, are mounted on pivoted steering knuckles connected by a tubular tie rod. No size is indicated on the front tires; their outside diameter is now about 34 inches, but some wear, of course, has occurred. The rear wheels, 36 inches in diameter, have tires that are marked 42 by 3 but actually measure 41 inches in outside diameter. The wheelbase is 82 inches, front tread 54 inches, and rear tread 65 inches. A large electric motor is mounted in front of each end of the rear axle. Each motor is geared directly to a large spur gear bolted to the spokes of its respective wheel.

The enclosed wooden body, creating an impression of great bulk, accommodated four persons on facing seats. There is a voice tube that allowed communication between passengers and the driver outside, plus glass windows that can be raised and lowered, leather-covered fenders to shield the four wheels, and electric side-lamps.

The storage batteries are housed in two large compartments that form extensions to the body—one at the front and one at the rear. The front compartment contains a single set of 12 cells, and the rear one holds three sets, making 48 cells altogether. Since the wiring from cell to cell no longer is in place, the exact system used cannot be determined.

The exposed seat for the driver and footman is seven feet above ground, over the rear battery compartment. The steering tiller, at the left of the seat, is attached to the upper end of a long, vertically mounted shaft that is connected to the left steering knuckle by a long rod. In front of the driver’s seat is a combination 150-volt voltometer and ammeter that indicated the state of charge and the rate of charge and discharge of the batteries. On the left is a lever that operated a horizontal, drum-type controller (located under the driver seat) that governed the speed and provided the reverse. Contracting brake bands on the rear-wheel brake drums were operated by means of a pedal that is pivoted in the floorboard.

Date Made:
about 1900
New York
Gift of Mrs. Herbert Wadsworth

Between the 1890s and 1920s, a standard automotive design emerged out of the competition between steam, electric, and internal-combustion cars. Manufacturers chose engines, drive trains, and accessories that they thought would attract buyers or make cars more powerful, cheaper, or easier to operate. The front-engine, shaft-driven internal-combustion car appeared by 1901 and became the overwhelming choice of motorists by 1910. Steam cars and electric cars, like this one, fell out of favor and disappeared from the market in the 1920s.

Related People, Places, and Events
Precursor to Manufacturer
Riker Electric Motor Company
The company existed using this name from 1888-99

Riker Electric Vehicle Company
Company changed name to above in 1899. It existed until 1902, when the founder and president, Andrew Lawrence Riker, went to work for the Locomobile Company.

inventor and manufacturer
Andrew Lawrence Riker (1868 - 1930)
Andrew L. Riker was born in New York City. He was an automobile designer, engineer, and inventor. He was the first president of the Society of Automotive Engineeers.

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