Riker Electric Automobile, ca. 1900


Andrew Riker was one of several electric vehicle enthusiasts who rose to prominence in the early automobile manufacturing industry. In 1884, when Riker was a teenager, he designed and built a three-wheeled electric tricycle. Four years later, he established the Riker Electric Motor Company in Brooklyn, New York to manufacture motors and dynamos. The Riker Electric Vehicle Company, which he founded in 1899, built more than a dozen types of electric cars and trucks. In the early 1900s, most cars were small and open, but the owners of the Smithsonian’s ca. 1900 Riker electric demi-coach, Herbert and Martha Wadsworth, were born to wealth and could afford a large, enclosed car, even though it was at the upper end of the price range. Herbert inherited vast acres of farm land in upstate New York, and he managed a creamery and flour mill. Martha’s father, Henry Blow, developed mining interests in Missouri and became a leading figure in the industrial and commercial development of St. Louis. Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth spent the winters in Washington, D. C. and mingled with the city’s social elite. In 1902, they built a Beaux Arts mansion on Washington’s fashionable Dupont Circle. They equipped it with modern conveniences: electricity in every room, dual steam radiator and forced air heat, a refrigerated room cooled with ice, and the most up-to-the-minute form of urban transportation, an electric automobile. Working with their architect, they designed a ground floor tunnel that substituted for a porte-cochere (exterior shelter over a driveway). With no tailpipe emissions, the Riker rolled safely and silently through the depths of the mansion, and it carried Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth through Washington’s winter weather in relative comfort. An “automobile room,” one of the first indoor garages in Washington, was equipped with battery charging equipment and a car wash to keep the Riker ready for use.

Date Made: ca 1900

Inventor: Riker, Andrew LawrenceMaker: Riker Electric Vehicle Company

Location: Currently not on view

Used: United States: District of Columbia

See more items in: Work and Industry: Transportation, Road, Automobiles, America on the Move, Transportation, Road Transportation


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Herbert Wadsworth

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: TR.310470Catalog Number: 310470Accession Number: 118161

Object Name: automobileOther Terms: automobile; Road

Measurements: overall: 8 3/16 ft x 77 in x 10 13/16 ft; 2.48717 m x 195.58 cm x 3.30098 m

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a6-6fb3-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_840488

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