Who Invented The Spark Plug?

Have you ever wondered who invented the spark plug? A device that produces a spark at the required time to ignite the combustible mixture.

If you were to look at a spark plug, it's pretty obvious that they'd been meant to make things go better. You might think someone invented them specifically for cars, but you'd be wrong. The history of the spark plug suggests that its inventor had something else in mind.

Spark plugs first appeared sometime around the 1800s, and were designed to make explosions happen where they would do the most good. The invention of a practical gasoline-powered internal combustion engine was only a few years away, and inventors were trying everything possible to improve it.

Time to meet the inventors...

Year: 1839

Inventor: Edmond Berger

Some historians believe that the spark plug was first thought of by Edmond Berger in 1839, who took steps to improve the efficiency of early internal combustion engines. It is also said, if it did exist, the spark plug was likely to be experimental, as the internal combustion engine was not invented till 1860. Also, there are no patents, records or reports supporting Berger's invention, yet he is credited for pioneering work in this field.

Bright Spark Moment: Edmond Berger was an immigrant from Togo - one of the smallest countries in Africa.

Year: 1859

Inventor: Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir

The first practical use of an electric spark plug was by Belgian-French inventor Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir in 1859 in his gas-fired engine, which burned a mixture of coal gas and air. His invention was granted a patent on July 13 1886 (Patent number: US345596A for Gas Engine).

Click here to learn more about the patent.

Lenoir's engine was commercialized in sufficient quantities to be considered as the first internal combustion piston engine. Prior designs for such engines were patented as early as 1807 by De Rivaz; a French-born Swiss inventor known for inventing a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine with electric ignition. However, none had been commercially successful until Lenior's invention came along!

Several other inventors followed his lead and soon both sides of the Atlantic had inventors building gas engines. One of those was George Brayton from Massachusetts, who is usually credited with the invention of the first American internal combustion engine.

Bright Spark Moment: The ACF (Automobile Club de France) on 16 July, 1900 awarded Lenoir with an award, which was a vermeil plate with the inscription, "In recognition of his great merits as an inventor of the gas engine and builder of the first car in the world." And 3-weeks later (4 August), Lenoir died.

Year: 1872

Inventor: George Brayton

The next inventor was American George Brayton who invented Brayton cycle engine in 1872. This was a two-stroke engine that initially used vaporized gas and later Kerosene and oil. The engine was known as Brayton's Ready Motor where it used one cylinder for compression, a receiver reservoir, and a separate power/expander cylinder in which the products of combustion ignited/expanded for the power stroke. He is also credited for inventing the first commercial liquid-fueled internal combustion engine.

Bright Spark Moment: Brayton cycle engines were some of the first to be used for motive power. The world's first successful self-propelled submarine, the Fienian Ram by John Phillip Holland in 1881 used a Brayton Engine!

Year: 1876

Inventor: Nikolaus Otto

Nikolaus August Otto is accredited with creating the first large stationary single-cylinder internal combustion four-stroke gasoline engine (the Otto engine), in which the ignition of the compressed fuel-air mixture is initiated by a timed spark.

The Otto engine was the prototype of today's internal combustion engines. His design included all 4 operations of an internal combustion engine (intake, compression, power and exhaust), which has been applied to all engines of this type since.

Bright Spark Moment: Nicolaus Otto and Eugen Langen, son of a Sugar Industrialist on 31 March 1864 launched NA Otto & Cie in Cologne, Germany. This was the World's first engine factory that focused on design and production of internal combustion engines. Over 50,000 engines were produced!

Year: 1898

Inventor: Nikola Tesla

On August 16, 1898, patent number US609,250 was granted to Nikola Tesla for an electrical igniter for gas-engines.

Click here to learn more about the patent.

He licensed his patent to Duryea, the first American firm to build gasoline automobiles. Duryea made changes and improvements and produced an initial run of 500 cars powered by the Tesla coil ignition.

To think of it! The Tesla ignition system is still in use today. The four-stroke engine has an electric ignition system that provides current for each cylinder's spark plug independently.

Bright Spark Moment: Tesla's inventions made him America's most important inventor at the time, but he died penniless in a New York hotel. Recently, he has been referred to as the "Man who invented the 20th Century."

Year: 1898

Inventor: Frederick Richard Simms

Frederick Richard Simms' patent GB 24859/1898 involved a magneto for an internal combustion engine.

How it works: A magneto is essentially a generator which also generates pulses of high-voltage at the secondary terminals when the armature (rotor) is turned inside its magnetic field. The timing and duration of these pulses determines whether or not they produce a spark across the spark plug's electrodes.

Bright Spark Moment: You know the words "petrol" and "motorcar", right? But did you know - it was Simms who coined these words!

Year: 1901

Inventor: Gottlob Honold

Robert Bosch's engineer Gottlob Honold in 1901 presented his high-voltage magneto ignition system, based on what was known as electric arc ignition. By means of two coils on the armature, it generated a high-voltage current. This current was conducted to a spark plug via a cable connection. The high-voltage current jumped the gap between its electrodes in the form of a spark.

Also, the design of a spark plug with two discrete electrodes had been known since about 1860; however, all the ignition experiments till then had little less success. Honold developed a highly insulating ceramic for the insulating body and a heat-resisting alloy for the electrodes.

This invention made possible the development of a spark-ignition engine (SI engine). A SI engine is an internal combustion engine in which the spark plugs ignite the fuel-air mixture in each cylinder. The SI engine system has been widely used for over a century since then, and is still in use today!

Bright Spark Moment: Honold was an inventor who experimented with high-voltage ignition systems early in the development of gasoline engines. He worked for Bosch, and is credited for developing the first high-voltage spark plug. With world-changing inventions like this, it is no wonder why Robert Bosch GmbH has become a behemoth in the automotive parts industry! As you can see, this invention wasn't just about the spark plug. Yet it still warrants a spot for its role in powering engines all over the world!

Year: 1910

Inventor: Albert Champion

In 1910 incorporated the Champion Ignition Company. In 1922, he changed the name to AC Spark Plug company. The company is now known as ACDelco and is owned by General Motors. So what's the big deal, right?

Champion had a high-voltage spark plug in his mind, and set out to find a way to make it work. He experimented with different alloys for electrodes and developed electrode shapes that could dissipate heat generated through an electric arc during ignition. He also came up with coating materials that would stand up to the heat.
Here are a few of Champion's spark plug patents. And now you decide if Champion was a man ahead of his time!

Double-insulated spark plug

Application filed: 1919

Patent granted: 1924

Patent number: US1501021A.

Click here to learn more about the patent

Self-cleaning spark plug

Application filed: 1922

Patent granted: 1925

Patent number: US1537586A

Click here to learn more about the patent

Terminal connecter for spark plugs

Application filed: 1925

Patent granted: Year 1927

Patent number: US1651374A

Click here to learn more about the patent

Bright Spark Moment: the current-day Champion company that produces spark plugs is actually not named after Albert Champion. It was completely a different business, and they produced decorative tiles in the 1920s. So how did Champion (the tile company) become Champion Spark Plug Company?

As you know, spark plugs use ceramics as insulators, and as demand grew in the 1930s, Champion changed their business-line and started producing spark plugs in their ceramic kilns in 1933. By this time, General Motors (GM) had bought the AC Spark Plug Company.

GM Corp. could not continue using the Champion name, as the original investors in Champion Ignition Company set up Champion Spark Plug Company as competition.

Jobo Kuruvilla Thinks!

As far as who invented the spark plug, no one person can take full credit for its invention. Edward Berger, Étienne Lenoir, George Brayton, Nikola Tesla, Frederick Simms, Nikolaus Otto, Robert Bosch, Albert Champion, Oliver Lodge, Kenelm Lee Guinness and many others made their own significant contributions and advancements to the invention of the spark plug.

Disclaimer: As interesting as it would be to know who invented the spark plug and when, it is very difficult to find a source that has the correct name and date. All the information found in this article comes from many different sources and the information was clarified by a spark plug expert, who has been in the industry for over 25 years. This information can't be guaranteed to be accurate. It's not meant to provide definitive facts, but rather inform the reader and encourage further research - Happy Sparking!

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Read more on: #automotive engineering
Article Published On: Friday, January 7, 2022, 23:40 [IST]
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