The story of the Kettering Bug, the World's First Aerial Drone

The 1912 Cadillac Roadster was one of the first to feature Kettering’s electric starter. Wikimedia

2. Delco invented the electrical system for automobiles in 1911

Kettering and his team attacked the problem of electrical distribution in automobiles, and by 1911 developed the system still more or less in use in the 21st century. To the Delco team, the electrical system had three roles to play in conjunction with the internal combustion engine. It needed to produce the spark necessary for ignition. It needed to start the engine. And a supply of current for lighting was another necessary function of the system. Kettering and Delco developed the first automobile electric starter, the generator (later alternator), and the necessary adjuncts for the electrical distribution system.

When the system was presented to Henry Leland in 1911, Cadillac ordered 12,000 units for inclusion in its automobiles. Delco had no means of producing them. The company was what in a later day would be called a think tank, not a manufacturing facility. Delco purchased land in Moraine (south of Dayton) to build an assembly facility, and electric starters and distribution systems for Cadillac were installed on 1912 models of their car. Delco became widely known in the fledgling automotive industry. By 1918, Delco (and Cadillac) was part of General Motors, with Kettering serving as the vice-president of General Motors Research Corporation and Delco Electronics.