#TIL: Electric Starter: the spark that ignited gas powered vehicle sales

By Roshan Toshniwal

Charles Kettering (centre) installing his electric starter in an early Buick Automobile. Photo courtesy Automobile Hall of Fame

The Internal combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles were extremely noisy and required manual effort to change gears and start the vehicles. Additionally, the vehicle could either get a bump start (pushing the vehicle down a slope) or hand-cranked making it inconvenient and dangerous. The person cranking the engine could get seriously injured due to the kickback if the handle continued to turn after the engine had started.

In 1908, one such incident triggered Henry Leland, the founder of Cadillac and Lincoln to initiate a safe solution to yanking the crank, leading to the invention of an electric starter by Charles Kettering. The spark for ignition, led to development of a new electrical system allowing the engine to recharge its own battery and enable steady flow of electricity for interior and headlight. While America abandoned the crankholes by the 1950s it was still prevalent in other countries across the globe.

Lack of affordable electric cars vis-a-vis Model T coupled with cheaper oil and wider network of filling stations and electric starter accelerated adoption of ICE vehicles. History repeats itself, as improvement in battery technology and compelling need to reduce emission is reinvigorating interest in electric vehicle again.

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