The automotive starter motor has been in use for over one hundred years. The advent of the car starter was a direct result of a fatal injury sustained by an individual trying to hand crank a car. The car was a Model 30 Cadillac. The individual was a close friend of then CEO and founder of Cadillac, Henry Leland. Mr. Leland commissioned Charles Kettering, who developed Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, to incorporate electric starter motors in Cadillac’s new model year vehicles. The 1912 Cadillac was the first car to be equipped with a starter motor and generator assembly, and lighting, which became the famous DELCO system.
Prior to 1912, and beginning in the mid 1890s, all cars equipped with internal combustion engines had to be hand cranked in order to start. If the procedure wasn’t done correctly, i.e., retarding the timing to prevent backfiring, then personal injury, or even death could occur. Hand cranking was also very physically demanding making it very difficult for anyone with a small stature to start the engine.
By 1920, nearly all manufacturers were producing cars equipped with starters making it easy for anyone, regardless of physical abilities, to start a car by pressing a button mounted on the dash or floor. Some cars had a pedal on the floor that when depressed would engage the pinion gear to the flywheel and also complete the electrical circuit to the starter motor.
An ignition on and starter engage switch operated by a key was introduced by Chrysler in 1949. This feature allowed the electrical systems on vehicles to be greatly expanded to a point where computer controlled starting was implemented meaning that the ignition switch is no longer directly connected to the starter, but rather acts as an input signal to the vehicle computer that the car needs to be started. Many late model vehicles now have a push button on the dash to signal the computer to start the vehicle.
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