The First Electric Self Starter, Feb. 17, 1911

102 years ago yesterday, on Feb. 17, 1911, Charles Kettering’s electric self-starter was first installed on a car, a Cadillac. Once proven, it was offered for sale on the 1912 Cadillac and it quickly was adopted as an industry standard throughout the automotive world. If your car has a gasoline or diesel engine, its starter ultimately traces its design back to Kettering’s invention. GM bought Kettering’s Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, Delco, to get Kettering’s invention but more important, to get Kettering, who was eventually made a senior vice president of the entire corporation. While the self-starter gave Cadillac a distinctive feature, there was money to be made by offering it on all of GM’s products, and perhaps even more by Delco vending it to other automakers. It’s a bit ironic that Kettering, an electrical genius (well, actually, he was a polymath, gifted in many areas – his many patents include medical devices besides automotive gizmos), invented an electrical component that helped kill off electric cars, by making gasoline powered cars more practical. Kettering also changed society by making it possible for many women to drive since most females don’t have the upper body strength needed to crank start a car. He was General Motors’ first chief engineer and under his direction the company’s engineering staff became one of the best in the world.

More on Charles Kettering and how he impacted the auto industry and society at large here.

Charles Kettering with the first electric self-starter, installed on a Cadillac for the first time Feb. 17. 1911.

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