The First Spark Plugs

The First Spark Plugs

The first spark plugs were developed for the combustion engine in around 1860 by Étienne Lenoir, the man credited for its invention. In the beginning, few realized that there would be a business to be built around the spark plug until the automobile became available to the general public. Up until then, spark plugs would be made by the car maker themselves. A great article appeared in the 1917 Honolulu Star Bulletin and we will start with that as well as look at some of the first spark plugs and their advertising.

Manufacturers Of Spark Plugs Face Problems – When the spark ignition was first devised spark plugs had the name general design as they have today, an insulator with a center electrode and a side electrode creating a gap for the spark to jump through, in order to ignite the compressed gas. Originally there were no spark plus manufacturers, for the reason that there was really no spark plug business, and the manufacturers of motor cars had to make their own spark plugs. Some of them used porcelain and others mica and the plugs were all of the separable type.

With the growth of the automobile trade a few people began to realize that the making of spark plugs would become a business, and spark plug factories were founded. For a good many years the few manufacturers in the business had to import their insulators and the material used for electrodes. It was a good many years before the manufacturers of porcelains in America began making insulators. The business was so small that they did not care to handle it.


First Champion spark plug advertisement found 1916

Today there are several porcelain manufacturers who make insulators for the spark plug makers in large quantities. Some of them make their screw machine parts and put the plugs together; others are assemblers and buy both screw machine parts and porcelain from outside manufacturers. What are spark plug makers striving for? The greatest trouble expected in the beginning was short circuiting by soot.  All the plug makers were striving for was a plug that would not soot or short circuit. In those days, motors were of very low compression and low speed. We did not get very high, heat and sudden cooling we do today. Several designs were made that helped to overcome the soot trouble, but no positively non sooting plug exists. The spark plug maker also was trying to obtain porcelain that would not crack too easily.  Up to the present time there is no such thing. The real defect was the poor design which did not give the uniform pressure.

The First Spark Plugs

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With the increased efficiency of motors the spark plug makers ran into new trouble. On account of higher compression and higher speed spark plugs would leak compression. At high speed the motor would miss and at low speed it would ran un-uniformly.” We found that it could not be done with the separable type. At the same time only done by a special process by which the metal is expanded to its maximum when the plug is assembled.

The leading engineers of France and England, who have designed the most efficient aeroplane engines, have told us that there is no spark plug in Europe that will stand up continuously on these motors. The United States government has a force of men in the bureau of standards trying to develop spark plug insulators that will be dependable for aviation.

1917-champion-spark-plugChampion Spark Plugs Make Marvelous Record (Times Dispatch 1914)  With the announcement that it is now turning out an average of 20,000 spark plugs per day, the Champion Spark Plug Co., of Toledo, Ohio, has given another striking illustration of the marvelous growth of the automobile industry. For a concern engaged in the manufacture of a small, but nevertheless important part of an automobile, the Champion Company’s rise in tho industry has been a wonderful demonstration of business development.

Four years ago the Champion Spark Plug Co. began the manufacture of its product in a little dingy factory space in Toledo. The best effort of officials and workmen could bring about the production of only about 400 plugs per day. Now with a daily production of 20,000 plugs is one of the largest and most completely equipped factories in the country.

The company has not only increased its business by 6,500 percent, but has readied the stage where in nine hours it produces more plugs than, in the old days, were manufactured in a month. The growth of the plant has been a steady and consistent one. The contract with the Willy’s-Overland Company for champion spark plug equipment for Overland cars, four years ago, was the opening wedge for several excellent business strides. The Champion is now used in the factory equipment of Ford, Overland, Maxwell, Studebaker, Metz and more than sixty other popular makes of cars.


Champion Spark Plug Advertisement 1919 Richmond Times Dispatch


1922 – Betlehem Spark Plug Advertisement


Porter spark plug advertisement 1919

Comments (2)

  1. Rick Ashton

    I have been researching the Ashton Valve company, a company started by my ancester Henry Ashton in 1871. They made safety valves and pressure gages for Steam automobiles, locomotives, marine ships, and any type of steam boiler. Ashton Valve was the preferred gage for the Stanley steamer, white Pope,and other steam cars. I have put together an article with vintage photos that might appeal to your readers.
    Let me know if you are interested.
    Rick Ashton

  2. Rick Ashton

    Oh, and I enjoyed the spark plug article too. Love the old ads.


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