The fortune that Kettering made from starters and the DELCO company in Dayton Ohio was an early funder of Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York, one of the great cancer hospitals in the world. I just returned from Dayton Ohio where I attended the annual Hamvention.
In 1912, the very real dangers of starting a car engine by hand are what spurred Cadillac to adopt electric starters in the first place.
In the winter of 1908, a woman stalled her Cadillac in Belle Island, Michigan, and didn’t have the strength to crank the car over. So she sat there. Another driver by the name of Byron Carter happened along and offered to start the stalled Cadillac. Carter was the founder of CarterCar, which was acquired by GM in 1909, largely due to the company’s development work with friction transmissions. Carter was also a friend of Cadillac founder Henry Leland.
When Carter turned the stalled Cadillac’s crank, the engine reportedly backfired, the crank hit him in the face and broke his jaw. Tragically, gangrene set in, and, medicine being what it was at the turn of the last century, Carter died later that year.
Carter’s death allegedly made Leland decide that Cadillac would rid its cars of the hand starter crank. So he called on Charles Kettering and Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co., or DELCO, which had already developed a high-energy spark ignition for Cadillac that debuted in 1910. DELCO was able to build the electric starter device and prepare it for introduction in Cadillac’s 1912 models.
The Kettering unit was a combination starter motor and generator with an overrunning clutch and a steep gear reduction between the starter gear and the gear on the crankshaft that allowed the small electric motor to turn over the car’s IC engine. The operator would engage the starter with a foot pedal. When the engine started and the pedal was released, a clutch engaged, connecting the starter motor to a shaft from the oil pump. When driven off the oil pump, the starter motor served double duty as a generator charging the car’s battery and supplying juice for the Model 30’s electric lights and its electric ignition system, all of which were cutting edge for the day.