Sparking Interest in Old Spark Plugs
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French Inventor Instrumental in Development of American Spark Plug
The early internal combustion engine did not have a spark plug: it used a mechanical sparking device called the ignitor. While the ignitor did the job, it was a constant source of trouble and frequently failed.
At the turn of the century, the first spark plugs were already being developed in Europe. Made of mica and brass, these early pieces were very similar to today's modern spark plugs.
Before 1907, there were relatively few spark plug manufacturers in the U.S. The budding automobile industry, though, was hungry for a well-made and inexpensive spark plug. Albert Champion, a French bicycle and motorcycle racer living in Boston, was among the first to meet that challenge: his first effort was a spark plug called the Nuport.
When Robert A. Stranahan and Frank D. Stranahan met Champion in Boston, and saw the Nuport, they were impressed by its quality. The two agreed to invest in the Albert Champion Company.
Champion was no stranger to spark plug manufacture: before coming to America, he had worked with the Renault company. He also had experience in manufacturing magnetos.
In 1908, Champion attempted to sell magnetos to William Durant, then head of the Buick Motor sales organization. Durant told him that although the company was no longer using magnetos, he was looking for a source of spark plugs that would work in Buick's high speed, high compression engines.
To save money, Durant wanted to manufacture his own plugs. If Champion could build a plug that would meet Buick's specifications, Durant said, he would build a factory to produce the plugs, and give Champion an interest in the company.
Champion was able to persuade the Stranahans to sell out. But they would not sell the name Champion Spark Plug Company. The new company briefly operated as Champion Ignition Company. After a legal battle with the Stranahans, however, the name was changed to A.C. (for Champion's initials) Spark Plug Company.
Flooding the Market
With the advent of the Tin Lizzie came a huge demand for spark plugs. Everyone seemed to have a better idea. The product that has survived is today's spark plug: one with a center electrode that fires off a grounding electrode.
Other ideas, though impractical, were certainly imaginative.
The Fan Flame plug made in Yonkers, N.Y., for instance, had a fan that was supposed to blow the carbon off the plug. That idea resurfaced in the Multi Point, Multiple Point, Schletc Sliding Gap and Movie Plug, among others.
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