Patent Page: The Humble Spark Plug

Find out more about the spark plug which was invented by Edmond Berger in 1839 according to several different sources.

| April/May 2020


Gottlob Honold’s 1914 patent for a “sparking device” more closely resembles the spark plug as we know it. First patented in Germany in 1902, it featured an electro-magnetic coil (b) which pulled up the center terminal (c), breaking the ground with the spark plug body (e) to produce a spark.

Given the spark plug’s critical role in the successful development and proliferation of the internal combustion engine, it’s interesting how little we appear to know about the details of precisely who invented the spark plug, and when.

According to several sources, the first spark plug was invented by Edmond Berger in 1839. Little information exists to explain the why and how of Berger’s invention, which he apparently never patented. Further, we have to wonder exactly what his spark plug was designed for, as the internal combustion engine had yet to be invented when Berger is said to have crafted his invention.

The need for a relatively simple, reliable device to ignite the compressed fuel/air charge in an internal combustion manifested itself greatly as the internal combustion engine took hold first in industry, and then as a power source for personal transportation. Etienne Lenoir, the inventor of one of the very first internal combustion engines, in 1858, patented an electric ignition in 1860, and is therefore sometimes credited with inventing the spark plug.

Many early engines used flame ignition to ignite the fuel/air charge. Battery and low-tension magneto ignition systems with make-and-break igniters further improved gas engine tuning and reliability, but there were limits to how it worked, especially as engine speeds increased in automotive applications. Igniter ignitions required constant attention, and the need to create a more reliable method for ignition became increasingly important.


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