Electric starter turns 100

2/17/2012
With the turn of a key or push of a button, starting a car today is taken for granted.
 
But a century ago, the electric starter that debuted in the 1912 Cadillac Touring Edition helped establish Cadillac’s reputation as a test bed of technology and innovation.
 
Before the electric starter, it took a hand crank, a lot of muscle, and a bit of hope to start driving.
 
"Hand cranking was the No. 1 injury risk in those early days of the automobile," said Greg Wallace, director of the General Motors Heritage Center, referring to the kickback on a crank handle that could break an arm, or worse.
 
As cars grew larger and more purposeful, so did the engines and effort required to start them. It was so difficult, in fact, that it gave rise to the term "cranky," which often described someone’s mood after struggling to start a car.
 
Cadillac founder Henry M. Leland, who had already pioneered electric lights and electric ignition on his cars, worked closely with Charles F. Kettering, the inventor of the electric starter, to incorporate the device into his cars. The electric starter also was GM’s first electric motor – a core business today anticipating the growth in the electrification of the automobile.
 
"It was one of the most significant innovations in the history of the automobile," Wallace said. "It was a complete game changer. Within a few years, Cadillac featured women in their advertising showing them as drivers, instead of passengers or bystanders."
 


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