Self-Starter (New Haven, 1900?)

Mike Salovesh salovex at WPO.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Nov 8 06:52:58 UTC 2001


(I'm still catching up with a two-week backlog of unread email):

The self-starter was independently invented by a whole lot of people. The
NYHT report of 1954 may be quite right in asserting that John Petrie was
one of them. The details in their story, nonetheless, are quite wrong. The
reason why cars in 1900 carried batteries had nothing to do with starting
-- they were there to provide the sparks that ignited the fuel to make the
car go.  Once the engine got going, it made sense to use some of its power
to drive a generator to keep the batteries charged. Once generators were
there, it took no great leap of the imagination to think of reversing the
process by using the battery's power to turn over the engine.  The idea
would have been immediately obvious to anyone with an interest in cars and
some knowledge of electricity.  (It was so obvious that it raised questions
about whether the notion was patentable at all. That could easily be the
reason why Mr. Petrie didn't try for a patent.)

My wife's grandfather (James Madison Lynn, of Maywood, Illinois) was an
electrical contractor who applied for a patent on "his" invention of the
self-starter, sometime around 1900.  There were 23 others who filed for
patents at about the same time. There was a major court battle over
patentability and precedence.

The winner parlayed his patent into the establishment of General Motors.

Fortunately, Mr. Lynn was one of the losers.  (I say "fortunately" because
I surely would never have met my wife, let alone married her, if she had
been heiress to the fortune that the patent brought.)

-- mike salovesh   <m-salovesh-9 at>   PEACE !!!

        IN MEMORIAM:  Peggy Lynn Salovesh
        25 January 1932  --  3 March 2001

Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
>    Wasn't everything invented in New Haven?...OED has one 1894 "self-starter" cite, then 1902...The OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN FOOD & DRINK may use this post.
>    From the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE, 3 February 1954, pg. 10, col. 5:
> _John A. Petrie,_
> _Dealt in Magic_
>    NEW HAVEN, Conn., Feb. 2 (AP).--John A. Petrie, eighty-three, of New Haven, died today in Grace-New Haven Hospital.  Mr. Petrie, who was active in a large magical equipment business until a week ago, had been an intimate friend of some of the great personalities in the magic field--Houdini, Powell, Thurston and Hardeen, and he held patents for hundreds of magical devices.
>    The owner of one of the first four autos in New Haven, Mr. Petrie, his family said, invented the self-starter in 1900.  Cars at that time carried some seventy-two pounds of batteries for starting purposes, so Mr. Petrie attached a magneto to the fly wheel to create a spark.  According to one of his sons, Mr. Petrie never patented the invention.
>    He was for a time a partner of A. C. Gilbert, which broke up when the latter went into the toy business.  Mr. Petrie, who corresponded frequently with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, perfected many locks for doors of the first automobile built.  Passengers entered through doors in the rear of the car and Mr. Petrie made the locks to prevent the riders from falling into the street.
>    Two sons,  Arthur J., and J. Walter Petrie, survive.
> (I haven't checked the New Haven newspaper's obituary to see what it credits him with--ed.)


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