Autolite: (3) An Idea

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In 1935, Robert (Bob) Twells, a ceramic engineer , approached by letter Mr, Walter P Chrysler of New York, suggesting that the Chrysler Corporation enter the spark plug business. Bob was aware of the fact that Chrysler did not relish purchasing componet parts from competitors. Mr. Chrysler then wrote to Mr. Royce G Martin, President of the Electric Autolite company, Toledo, Ohio, the largest independent producer of electrical parts for the automotive industry, suggesting that Electric Autolite enter the spark plug business. Mr Martin was skeptical about the company’s ability to enter this field, inasmuch as there has been several previous unmsuccessful attempts made to do so.

The author had frequently heard Mr. Martin make the following statement: “the streets of Brooklyn are paved with insulators that had failed to meet requirements.”

However, Royce Martin was a man willing to take chances, and with the credentials presented by Bob Twells, the former decided to take one more chance to make spark plugs, Bob’s references were sound and appealing, as he had worked for General Electric-Insulator Division, Champion Spark Plug Company, and AC Spark Plug Company, this experience afforded him an excellent background in ceramics.

Electric Autolite company decided to set up a research and development lavoratory at the Champlain Street factory in Toledo. This , in a sense, challenged Bob Twells to make a spark plug, the major problem being the ceramic insulator, For the first six months, Bob did patent research and found that Champion and AC Companies had pretty well covered with protection the spark plug insulators’ manufacturing techniques and composition. Hence, he had to work around these restrictions, Those familiar with spark plug insulator manufacturing realized only certain materials and compositions would give the properties necessary for a successful insulator.

Mr. Twells Plunged forward and hired Edwin (Ed) Mosthaf from AC Spark Plug Company, secured Renalto (Robbie) Robbins as a draftsman, George Schaffer as a draftsman, and Henry (Hank) Taylor as the secretary, thelatter three being “loaned” from the Electric Autolite Engineering Department. At this time, Robert (Bob) Swartzbaugh, Ernest (Ernie) Lyons, Roy Hummel, and the author, Duane (Dick) Richardson filled out the staff to “man” the laboratory of two small rooms, one being the office and the other the workshop area.

The management of Electric Autolite was apprehensive of this endeavor, because there might be a conflict of interest, due to the former connection of Mr. tells with Champion and AC and Mr, Mosthaf with AC. Consequently, this nucleus of staff men worked under tight security, Locked doors, coded orders for materials, etc. In spite of these precautions, rumors became prevalent the Electric Autolite was ready toenter the spark plug business. However, these rumors were temporarily stopped by ChryslerCorporation’s purchase of three million spark plugs from Champion. An announcement by Mr. R.A. Stranahan, Champion’s President, was supposed to have quieted a rumor that the Electric Autolite Company was to establish a spark plug plant, with Chrysler as one of its largest customers.

In the meantime, work proceeded in the laboratories of Autolite, and in order to keep this secret, all components, including the firebrick for the tunnel kilns, were manufactured in the laboratory and fired in a make-shift furnace in the one-room workshop. Subsequently, a satisfactory spark plug was made and it was tested in the engine laboratory of the main factory under the supervision of Eugene (Gene) Lowery, along with the other electrical component parts made then for Chrysler. The reaults of the first tests were such that Autolite decided to work toward the manufacturing stage.


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