Is it true that EVs were once faster than ICEs?

In the late 1800s there were a number of inventers and entrepreneurs working on the horseless carriage. Automobiles with internal combustion, electric motors, and steam engines were all being developed. Races were open to all.

The high point for Electric Vehicles was the September 7-11, 1896 races held at Narragansett Park in Providence Rhode Island, where 2 EVs bested a field of 6 internal combustion automobiles.

The race was held on a horse track and under the general rules for trotting races. It was scheduled to be 25 miles total length broken down into five mile heats.

The first race was run on Monday, September 5. There was a rolling start with the Riker Electric Motor Company car, driven by A.L. Riker, on the pole. The Riker Electric completed the 5 mile race in 15 minutes and 1 second, with the Electric Carriage & Wagon Company entry, driven by Henry B. Morris, only 13 seconds behind. The first ICE car, entered by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, was a further 3 minutes and 33 seconds behind.

The second race, held on Tuesday, Septmember 6, was faster and closer. The Riker Electric won again from poll, cutting almost two minutes from the previous day's time; but only 7 seconds behind was the Duryea ICE entry. Despite being 41 seconds faster than yesterday, the Electric Carriage entry finished third.

Wednesday and Thursday, races were rained out.

By Friday afternoon, the track was dry enough to race on and 50,000 people gathered to watch.

50,000 people gathered to watch the race

The Riker Electric still had the pole position but lining up in second was the internal combustion entry of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. The Electric Carriage entry opted for a new driver, Henry B. Morris stepping aside for Mr. Adams.

The cars were even faster and the racing even closer. The Electrics got a good start, but by the half mile mark, the Duryea Motor Wagon entry was gaining. At this point, the ICE suffered a tire puncture and could not maintain the pace. The Ricker Electric held a small lead over it's Electric Carriage rival until the final straight. There, the Electric Carriage entry put on a final burst of speed and took first place with a record time of 11 minutes and 27 seconds. The Riker Electric at 11 minutes and 28 seconds and the Duryea Motor Wagon entry at 11 minutes and 29 seconds also set personal bests and contributed to a thrilling finish.

The contest paid 3/5 prize money since two heats were rained out.

The Riker Electric Motor Company vehicle was the overall winner taking home $900.

Race winner -Riker Electric Motor Company

Second went to The Electric Carriage & Wagon Company collecting $450. The ICE of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company placed third and was awarded $270.

To the best of our knowledge, it would be 111 years, 3 months and 14 days before an electric vehicle again claimed victory against an Internal combustion engine powered automobile, in a sanction close circuit competition.

Most of this information comes from Ernest Henry Wakefield's History of the Electric Automobile. Pictures are courtesy of Pronyne Motorsports Museum, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA.


Wakefield, Ernest Henry. History of the Electric Automobile. Warrendale, PA: Society of Aytomotive Engineers, Inc.

Anderson, Cutis D. and Judy. Electric and Hybrid Cars A History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2005

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