Monday 17th April 1911
Charles F. Kettering applied for a U.S. patent for the self-starting mechanism he had designed for the Cadillac Car Company. The vision for the self-starter is said to have been the result of the peculiar death of Cadillac founder Henry Leland’s close friend, Byron Carter. In 1910, Carter, the manufacturer of the Cartercar, suffered a broken jaw and arm when he stopped to help a woman with the crank-starter on her car. The crank, linked directly to the car’s driveshaft, was capable of bucking out of the hands of its “cranker,” and Carter suffered for it. His injuries complicated and combined with a case of pneumonia to kill him. Distraught by the event, Leland determined to solve the problem of the crank-starter. He hired Kettering, then famous for creating an electric engine small enough for the electric cash register. Kettering believed he could create an engine capable of starting the motor of car that was light enough and small enough not to hinder the car’s ability to run. The engineering problem took him no time at all. He offered Leland a prototype in December of 1910. Kettering’s system relied on a storage battery that supplied a 24-volt charge to the starter to ignite the engine. The battery then switched to six volts to feed back into the battery and recharge it. His first operating model was delivered to Cadillac on February 17. Leland ordered 12,000 units to be installed in the 1912 Cadillac. The self-starter gave women access to cars for the first time. Without the arduous task of cranking the engine to deter them, women could drive cars on their own. Since there were almost as many rich women as rich men, the self-starter drastically broadened the market for the automobile.