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Charles F. Kettering: Science of Automotive Engineering, 1936

High-Energy Ignition

Hired as an experimental engineer in 1904, Kettering's first task was the motorization of the registers; his team took a year to invent an electric motor applicable to all NCR models. Further work by Kettering's separate teams during the next four years added the basics of accounting machines, low-cost registers, and internal department store communications.

Kettering married Olive Williams of Ashland, Ohio, in 1905, and their only child, Eugene Williams, was born on April 20, 1908.

Kettering's interest in the new science of automobile engines grew when a colleague, Edward Deeds, asked for help with a car he was building himself from a kit. At Deeds' request and with spare-time help from other NCR friends, Kettering developed a high-energy spark ignition system to replace the weak-spark model supplied with the kit. Leaving NCR in 1909, Kettering focused on final development of this ignition set and demonstrations were favorably received. With this response, Kettering and Deeds immediately created the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO).

The development of an electric self-starter replaced the cumbersome—and sometimes dangerous—method of starting the automobile by hand cranking. As the time's most prominent automotive engineer, Kettering focused on applied science and ingenuity rather than theoretical contemplation, and set his research staff to work. Their experimental approach involved a series of reasoned attempts but no stated hypothesis to prove. Delco began converting their prototype to a version which could be mass produced for incorporation in the 1912 Cadillac models.