You’d probably be a lot stronger today if it weren’t for Cadillac. Back at the turn of the century, cars were started with hand cranks. As horsepower numbers multiplied, so did engine sizes. And as engines got bigger, so did the strength needed to turn them.
None of that must have been pleasant in ye olden days, especially when people needed to get going during hail storms. So Henry Leland, the man who founded Cadillac (and Lincoln, coincidentally enough) brought on Charles Kettering, the founder of General Motors and inventor of the electric ignition starter, to create one for his Cadillac automobiles. The technology made its debut on a road-going car in 1912.
From that point on in the not-so-politically-correct early half of the twentieth century, Cadillac began featuring women in its advertising, showing that even a genteel, graceful housewife could pilot a Caddy with ease. Then the electric starter began trickling to other brands throughout GM (which fully purchased Cadillac in 1909).
Puffing its own feathers, Cadillac also lays claim to developing:
- the first fully closed-body car
- lacquer paint
- auto climate control
- heated seats
- tilt and telescoping steering wheel
- the early air-cushion restraint (Mercedes-Benz developed what we now know as the airbag)
- magnetic suspension adjustments
GM, in total, has many, many “firsts” to its claim, including the automatic transmission, night vision, and mass-production of a front-wheel-drive car.
But up until the electric starter, the auto industry was full of “It’s all been done.” GM’s real innovation only began with the turn of a key 100 years ago, helping make the world of wheels accessible not just to those who could wind a heavy crank without pulling a muscle or breaking a bone.