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BOOK REVIEW: J.C.B. Mackeand’s ”Sparks and Flames

Author Photo
By Staff

3231 Randolph NW Warren, Ohio 44485

All gas engines need to have ignition systems, but until now no
one has brought together the story of the interesting developments
that led up to to day’s reliable ignition systems. Craw ford
MacKeand has performed that service in his new book Sparks and
Flames, in which he traces the development of ignition from the
very earliest examples, surprisingly as early as the mid-1600s,
through to the early part of the present century.

As he explains, there was no obvious or easy line of
development. Electric ignition was used first and then superseded
but then came back into the picture, only to lose out again before
it finally took over in the 1900s. In the meantime there were
successful methods used for ignition, such as the flame valve and
the hot tube, and less successful methods like the electric hot
wire. Mr. MacKeand checks out all these systems with a large number
of line drawings from the period, many of them unfamiliar to this
reviewer. He also gives clear easy-to-follow explanations of how
they worked, how they came to be invented, and why they were
superseded, as almost all of them were.

His book starts with a short history of gas engines, following
the development of ignition in outline, and then looks at flame and
hot tube systems which were very important in the 1800s. Some
items, like the ‘jury’ reports on Lenoir’s 1860
non-compression engine and ‘the incessant maintenance which it
re quires,’ and an 1898 letter from Emil Jellineck to Daimler
complaining about how often his car caught fire, show why these
were superseded. A chapter on ‘Sparks’ introduces the
discovery of the electric spark, and MacKeand then de scribes in
more detail, low tension (make & break) and high tension (spark
plug) systems, and the great difficulty the gas engine pioneers had
in making these work reliably. Mr. MacKeand’s background as an
electrical engineer helps in telling us what their problems were
and how they have been over come. We have all used batteries and
magnetos, but it is surprising how many other sources of
electricity have been used; the chapter on ‘Energy for
Ignition’ details these methods. A short section deals with
compression ignition, oil and diesel engines. There is a chapter on
ignition theory, where he explains that in a small book you can
only scratch the surface of this very complicated subject, but
gives us a basic understanding of some of the technical factors
that affect ignition. Finally there is a section of practical tips
and know-how. To complete the book there is a chronology of dates
of all the important developments, a complete bibliography and a
full index.

In the course of the book a few important people appear we get
some biography of Robert Bosch and of Arthur Atwater Kent, for
example but most of the book concentrates on telling the story of
the actual development of the various forms of ignition. The book
is easy to read and understand. It is a must-have publication for
anyone with an interest in old engines and how they run. Sparks and
Flames is well produced and very reasonably priced at $14-95 ($3.00
shipping) with 176 pages (6’x 9′), over 80 illustrations
and soft bound. It can be obtained from the publisher, Tyndar
Press, P.O. Box 236, Montchanin, Delaware 19710 or through GEM and
numerous vendors advertising in GEM.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines