February 17 - First Self-Starting Automobile


– 1911



Whoa! Look at that! Someone just turned a key, and the engine of a car started!

That seems so ordinary these days, doesn't it? But Charles Kettering and his colleagues had to invent the electric starter before autos could start so easily. Before this day in 1911, you had to hand-crank a car's engine to start it.

A driver would cup the hand crank's handle in the palm of her or his right hand, operate the choke by pulling a wire with the left hand while slowly turning the crank—then rapidly pull the crank handle to start the engine. If the engine kicked back, the hand would be thrown away from the crank's handle (unless the driver was holding the crank wrong, in which case his wrist may be violently turned, or her thumb broken!).

It sounds trickier than a power lawn mower—and starting one of those is often an exercise in frustration!

The electric starter meant smaller, weaker, and older people could start a car, and everybody could start a car much more easily than before. This invention helped ensure the automobile's rise in popularity.


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