Inventors of the Spark Plug

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Inventors of the Spark Plug. When the first internal combustion engines began to show up in the late 1700s, sparks began to fly, quite literally. The development of this type of engine became a primary focus for many interested in mobility and engineering. By the early 19th century, a variety of ignition systems had been developed, but hardly any found commercial success due to poor reliability issues. According to multiple, rather vague accounts, Edmond Berger, a Black man believed to be from Togo, West Africa, took a step to improve the efficiency of these engines when he invented the spark plug on this day in 1839.

A spark plug relies on electricity to pass a spark between two electrodes, which ignites a fuel mixture inside an engine to generate power. Most modern internal combustion engines rely on spark plugs to operate. Unfortunately, Berger never patented his invention, which he developed in France. Due to the early date placed on Berger’s invention and the state of internal combustion engines at the time, his device would have been both revolutionary and rudimentary, if it existed at all – as some historians point out. Some believe the date to be incorrect, but nonetheless give credit to Berger for his pioneering work in the field.

A viable spark plug didn’t come about until the early 1900s. In 1902, Gottlob Honold, an engineer working for Robert Bosch, patented the first commercially successful spark plug. His work made possible the spark-ignition systems used in automobiles since.

Internal combustion engines need three things to run: spark, fuel, and compression. The spark comes from the spark plug. Spark plugs consist of a metal threaded shell, a porcelain insulator, and a central electrode, which may contain a resistor.

According to Britannica a spark plug or sparking plug is, “a device that fits into the cylinder head of an internal-combustion engine and carries two electrodes separated by an air gap, across which current from a high-tension ignition system discharges, to form a spark for igniting the fuel.”

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Edmond Berger

Some historians have reported that Edmond Berger invented an early spark plug on February 2, 1839. However, Edmond Berger did not patent his invention. Spark plugs are used in internal combustion engines and in 1839 these engines were in the early days of experimentation. Therefore, Edmund Berger’s spark plug, if it did exist, would have had to have been very experimental in nature as well or perhaps the date was a mistake.

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir ​​

This Belgian engineer developed the first commercially successful internal combustion engine in 1858. He is credited for developing the spark ignition system, which is described in US Patent #345596.

Oliver Lodge

Oliver Lodge invented the electric spark ignition (the Lodge Igniter) for the internal combustion engine. Two of his sons developed his ideas and founded the Lodge Plug Company. Oliver Lodge is better known for his pioneering work in radio and was the first man to transmit a message by wireless. 

Albert Champion

During the early 1900s, France was the dominant manufacturer of spark plugs. Frenchman, Albert Champion was a bicycle and motorcycle racer who immigrated to the United States in 1889 to race. As a sideline, Champion manufactured and sold spark plugs to support himself. In 1904, Champion moved to Flint, Michigan where he started the Champion Ignition Company for the manufacturing of spark plugs. He later lost control of his company and in 1908 started the AC Spark Plug Company with backing from Buick Motor Co. AC presumably stood for Albert Champion.

His AC spark plugs were used in aviation, notably for the trans-Atlantic flights of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. They also were used in the Apollo rocket stages.

You may think the current-day Champion company that produces spark plugs was named after Albert Champion, but it was not. It was a completely different company that produced decorative tile in the 1920s. Spark plugs use ceramics as insulators, and Champion started producing spark plugs in their ceramic kilns. Demand grew so they switched completely to producing spark plugs in 1933. By this time, the AC Spark Plug Company had been bought by GM Corp. GM Corp was not allowed to continue using the Champion name as the original investors in Champion Ignition Company set up Champion Spark Plug Company as competition.

Years later, United Delco and the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors combined to become AC-Delco. In this way, the Champion name lives on in two different spark plug brands.

Bellis, Mary. “Inventors of the Spark Plug.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/inventors-of-the-spark-plug-4074529.

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