Farm Electric Plant
Farm Electric Power Plant - The demand for modern electric conveniences on the farm would soon be satisfied by American ingenuity and a free and competitive market. Fresh from his immense success with National Cash Register and the Delco (Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company) automotive electric system for starting, lighting, and ignition, Charles F. Kettering developed the Delco-Light Farm Electric Light and Power Plant to supply electricity to rural homes and businesses.
Inspired by the owner of a Delco equipped auto who ran lights in his cottage from his car, Kettering adjusted the proportions of his automobile power system - engine, generator/motor, and battery. The result was a family of “hybrid” electric power plants, 25 models, that a person could purchase to supply electricity to a cabin, farm, country home, school, church, resort, or business. The farm electric plant consisted of a small single-cylinder engine direct connected to a generator/motor combined with a large battery operating at a safe 32 volts DC. The engine used kerosene (home heating oil), gasoline, or natural gas and was manually started, initially, to charge the battery to supply electricity silently for a few days before the process was repeated. Fully automatic controls would follow.
Introduced in 1916, the Delco-Light was an immediate success selling 35,000 units in the first 6 months and 175,000 in the following 3 years. In addition to a product line from 600 W to 3000 W with 25 models to meet most remote power needs, Kettering arranged to have a complete line of DC electric appliances made to operate directly from the battery - well pumps for “running water”, washing machines, vacuums, kitchen appliances, lights, and “Frigidaire” refrigerators.
In 1920, General Motors hired Kettering to lead corporate research and engineering activities and he insisted that Delco-Light be sustained. Success created a host of competitors but product improvements and a superior manufacturing, sales, distribution, and installation/service network would lead to a 50% market share. Sales surpassed 325,000 in 1928 and the President of GM predicted a market of 2.5 million units. The Depression slowed sales but Delco-Light continued to grow in popularity and sales would exceed 500,000 by 1935.