The open source spirit

Halfway related to skill as copyright and secret.

One of my perpetual Why So Late questions is electric starting for cars. Electric cars came before gas cars, and several of the early makers had both types at once. Studebaker electrified its buggy in 1902, then bought the Garford company in 1904 to join the gas trend. Electric cars already had HEFTY batteries, controllers, regulators, and an electric motor. Those manufacturers knew how to put an electrical system together and connect it to the wheels. Why didn’t they immediately mix the two technologies? Why did they wait till GM advertised the mix, then adopt it?

GM introduced electric starting in the 1912 Cadillac, after supposedly inventing it in late 1911. Did GM block the other makers with patent suits, as it often did with other developments?


This ad is from the Feb 1912 Motor Truck Journal, very shortly after the alleged invention. The pictured system didn’t have a separate starter motor with solenoid engaging the flywheel. It’s mechanically identical to existing ignition systems. Delco simply replaced the magneto by a motor/generator and rerigged the control wiring.

Delco was eagerly selling 60 styles of complete electrical systems to other manufacturers. The ad implies that other brands of starter were already available. Delco had the resources to develop the best, so they had the innate advantage and didn’t need to block the competition.

Later: In fairness, GM turned into the Global Monopolist around 1923 after DuPont bought it. In 1912 it was a disorganized collection of separate companies without much central control.

Later again after more reading: There were several successful non-electric starters before Delco, including windup springs (as later used on lawn mowers) and compressed air systems. Winton and Pierce used compressed air before 1912. Delco appears to be the first workable electric starter.

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