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The History of the
Autolite Spark Plug Plant in
Fostoria, Ohio

 The Author
Duane “Dick” Richardson

Autolite web site


Duane E. Richardson, a native of Toledo, Ohio, is a Graduate of the University of Toledo with a degree in engineering. He attended special management courses at Toledo University, University of Michigan, and Bowling Green State University. During World War II, he taught night classes at Heidelberg College, Tiffin Ohio.

Mr. Richardson is the retired President and General Manager of the Bendix Autolite Company, of Fostoria, Ohio. He has the rare privilege and distinction of heading, during the years of 1936-1976, "from the same chair", the manufacturing team at the plant, under three separate corporate owners, Electric Autolite Company, Ford Motor company, and Bendix Autolite Corporation.

The author is church and civic minded, and over the years has been extremely active as a volunteer in many organizations in outside areas and in the city. He maintains a great intereest in any progress for the betterment of Fostoria.

Mr. Richardson is married to the former Jennie M. Linson. They have two daughters and husbands,Carol and Joseph Taris, Suzanne and James Blaser, and three grandchildren, Kristin, Karen, and David Blaser.



]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:03:48 +0000
Autolite: (1) Preface


To decide to write a book about manufacturing a small object approximately 3/4"round and 2" TO 4" long would seem as if the subject matter could be very limited for the author.

However, this object, a spark plug, is a device greatly underrated by the unknowledgeable, and yet no internal combustion engine can operate without it.

The Physical properties of the component parts, which make up the spark plug, must have specific properties to operate in diversified environments.

It is not the intent of the author to deal with the technical aspects of the spark plug, but rather to "spin the tale" of the entrance of the Electric Autolite Company Toledo, Ohio, into the market. Also, it is the writer's desire to relay some of the trials and tribulations of a major manufacturing Corporation entering a highly competitive field in an area when capital risk money was scarce.

Included in this narrative will be the establishment and fate of the Electric Autolite Company's Plant in Fostoria, Ohio.


Dedicated to Robert G. Twells, the man who proposed the Fostoria Ohio, Spark Plug Plant, and through his commitment and untiring efforts, successfully guided it to the fulfillment of his idea.



Robert G. Twells

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:07:50 +0000
Autolite: (2) Prologue

An internal combustion engine would be worthless unless explosive gases inside a cylinder could be ignited with and electric spark. The pioneer engine makers had to be concerned with how this could be done.

In 1860, a patented gas engine by a man named Lenoir was probably the first to utilize a spark plug similar to those used today. However, many early engines did not employ this device, but rather a pair of metal contact points located inside the combustion chamber. These were opened and closed mechanically, and the spark was created when the contacts opened.

This systen had many limitations, and a version of today’s spark plug soon was adopted.

Most early spark plug were bulky and formed with large flanges, and were held against the cylinder head with stud and nuts

Around 1900, the threaded spark plug mounting appeared, some using a pipe thread, as in the old Ford Model “T”,and others using standard threads, sealed with gaskets against the engine head. As the engine became more pretentious, the techniques for doing this became more and more demanding. someone figured out that wire should pass into the engine cylinder through an insulating medium, such as a ceramic tube, and the spark could then “jump” from the wire to the cylinder head or “ground.”

The early spark plug insulators were made from low grade ceramic (probably a porcelain from which dishes were made at that time), even though this material had a relative low melting point, low mechanical strength, and an inability to be a good electrical insulator at high temperatures. Also, these early plugs were very susceptible to thermal shock, and often would break or shatter inside the cylinder with very disastrous results.

Other materials, including wood, rubber, glass, quartz, and mica, were used as insulators. Mica had a distinct advantage over the early ceramic material because it had a higher mechanical strength, better heat conductivity, and better insulating qualities at temperatures and pressures at which the engine operated at that time, but a disadvantage was that mica would dehydrate and disintegrate when operated at a high temperature. The mica plug was made by punching out mica washers and compressing them on a metal rod. Then these were shaped as desired on a lathe.

A great deal of effort was made to improve the life of spark plugs by having them made of pyrex glass and other insulating materials; allowing them to be dismantled for cleaning and replacement of various parts in the plug; developing many configurations; arranging for adjustable electrodes; and using all sorts of materials for electrodes; to give the latter more useful life.

Ingenious designs developed from these efforts such as: multiple electrode shells, ball-shaped center electrodes, disc-center electrodes,adjustable electrodes, and a (Cont.) fan-cooled center electrode, which was designed to turn and cool the insulator as the piston would operate up and down in the cylinder. A great deal of research was done on the nickel alloy electrode materials, and the use of platinum and its alloys. The wire had to be able to withstand electrical, and chemical erosion, as well as be a good heat and electrical conductor. Suppplies had to be plentiful and costs relatively low.It seemed that the engine development and the development of the spark plug had to go hand-in hand, as one would deter the progress of the other. This was brought to the attention of the spark plug industry very forcibly at a meeting called in Dayton, Ohio, by the United States Air Force at the beginning of World War II. At that time, most of the U.S. military aircraft were equipped with mica plugs, made by the BG Corporation of New York. The United States Air Force had engines that could not be run, due to the lack of a satisfactory spark plug. The Air Force pointed out the fact that our fleet of planes was practically grounded, and showed examples of good ceramic insulated plugs that were captured from “downed” German Planes during the Battle of Britain.

Our United States Military Air Corp “limped along” with ceramic plugs (which were made in lilmited supply in England) and the BG Corporation obtained a license from England to manufacture the “Lodge Ceramic Aircraft” plug to keep our Air Corp going. The other major spark plug companmies, such as chjampion, AC, and Electric Autolite, were requested to intensify their research and development, in order to produce a satisfactory plug for planes in the war effort, since a greater supply was needed from more than one source. Needless to say, the spark plug makers came through, and the planes were equipped with satisfactory plugs made in the United States.

Just before World War II, another major development in fuel required a change in the ceramic member of the spark plug. The introduction of “tetraethyl lead” into gasoline to improve its octane (anti-knock) properties, provided the industries with additional problems, because of the detrimental effects of the leaded gasoline on the insulator and the electrodes of the spark plug, so that much research was required on ceramic and electrode materials. The solution for the problem of the insulator was to make it out of high percentage aluminum oxide mixes which were resistant to lead attack, and had other satisfactory qualities.

The first manufacturer of spark plugs in the United States was the Champion Ignition Company (“Champion”), Boston Maassachusetts. This company was then the sole supplier of plugs to virtually all engine manufacturers in this country.

In 1909. General Motors acquired the assets, except for the trade name “Champion”, leaving the latter still in the manufacturing field. The principal owner of the Champion Ignition Company was Albert Champion and General Motors saw fit to use the initials of Albert Champion as its name--AC Spark Plug. The Stranahans bought the rights to make spark plugs from Champion Ignition Company and manufactured plugs under the “ Champion” label.

From 1909 - 1936, General Motors and Champion were the only significant spark plug producers in the United States, and they accounted for all spark plugs installed as original equipment in vehicles, and for more than 90 per cent of all plugs made and sold in the United States.

During this period, there were many small companies which entered the field to produce brand spark plugs. They would purchase their insulators from Frenchtown Porcelain Products, Frenchtown, New Jersey, the shells and wires from other suppliers, and would assemble them in small “garage or basement” plants. Their merchandising was done from the backs of autos or trucks.

Every supplier of parts for the automotive industry felt its name would carry enough prestige to enable its plugs to be sold in the after-market. Some even started plants and assembled plugs with their trade names.Such giants as Firestone, Goodyear, Edison Battery, Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, Western Auto Supply, Bill’s Auto Stores, W.T. Grant, and Standard Oil, to name a few, few are still merchandising plugs with their own trade names, but long ago stopped putting them together. At the time Electric Autolite Company entered the spark plug manufacturing business, there were over 140 producers of plugs in the United States. The principal supplier of trade name brand plugs is now Prestolite, with Autolite, Champion, and AC still manufacturing some. Electric Autolite bought the assets of Firesstone Spark Plug Division and, for a period of time, made plugs with the Firestone name and Firestone color,”pink”.

The design of a spark plugis not an exact science. There is no particular formula that fits this product, to decide which plug will perform satisfactorily in any given engine. Constant increase in horxsepower, compression raatios, location of the spark pllut within the cylinder, fuel inprovements, changes in economy, characteristics of the driver (fast or slow), distances traveled, climate--all have a bearing on which plug is used in any given engine. Hence, a spark plug furnished to the motor manufacturers is the one determined to be closest to meeting all of the above requirements. The “Big Three” spark plug manufacturers, as Champion, AC, and Electric Autolite are refered to, must work closely with the engine producers to determine the proper plug with the correct heat range. This term “heat range” refers to a spark plug’s thermal characteristics in its ability to transfer heat from the firing end to the engine cooling system. Heat range is detirmined by the length of the plug’s insulator tip, wire stick-out, diameters of the insulator tip and wire, the internal chamber of the spark plug shell, thermo conductivity of the ceramic body, and the seal between the wire and the insulator, among others. “Hot” plugs are usally manufactured with long insulator tips, and “cold” plugs with short ones.

The “Big Three” manufacturers have large investments in equipment to enable them to test their plugs under most driving conditions, and comparisons are made with the findings of the engine manufacturers and verified by actual ”fleet” testing (a number of cars equipped with recommended plugs and driven under field conditions). It is obvious that the spark plug supplier who furnishes his product for the new engine has the advantage of the testing knowledge of the proper plug to use before it goes on the market. In order to be able to sell plugs for all engines, it is mandatory to be able to test one’s brand plug against another’s brand, so as to enable the supplier to cover all of the applications in the after-market. It is usually the wish of the independents to carry the top 10 percent of the current volume plugs, so that they would not need to handle plugs that are slow movers in the market place.

A “rule of thumb” indicates in volume that 90 percent of the total plugs made are usually in about 10 percent of the numbers of types, and 90 percent of the types produced are only approximately 10 percent of the production volume of the maker. An independent spark plug seller without ties to an engine manufacturer only wishes to make spark plugs which are considered high volume for the current market, Plugs for engines no longer made, but which are still in use, are being produced and sold in the market place by the “Big Three”.

Just the problems of the automotive industry have been covered, but when these are multiplied by the perplexities that are incountered by furnishing plugs for applications for marine usage, farming, recreation vehicles, outboardmotors,snowmobiles, stationary engines, household tools (such as lawnmowers, weed cutters, etc,) all types of aircraft with internal combustion engines, construction machinery, etc., one can realize the magnitude of this type of business. The selection of the proper design for all these applications requires a company with diversified skills to satisfy these need and to compete in the market place.

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:09:11 +0000
Autolite: (3) An Idea

In 1935, Robert (Bob) Twells, a ceramic engineer , approached by letter Mr, Walter P Chrysler of New York, suggesting that the Chrysler Corporation enter the spark plug business. Bob was aware of the fact that Chrysler did not relish purchasing componet parts from competitors. Mr. Chrysler then wrote to Mr. Royce G Martin, President of the Electric Autolite company, Toledo, Ohio, the largest independent producer of electrical parts for the automotive industry, suggesting that Electric Autolite enter the spark plug business. Mr Martin was skeptical about the company’s ability to enter this field, inasmuch as there has been several previous unmsuccessful attempts made to do so.

The author had frequently heard Mr. Martin make the following statement: “the streets of Brooklyn are paved with insulators that had failed to meet requirements.”

However, Royce Martin was a man willing to take chances, and with the credentials presented by Bob Twells, the former decided to take one more chance to make spark plugs, Bob’s references were sound and appealing, as he had worked for General Electric-Insulator Division, Champion Spark Plug Company, and AC Spark Plug Company, this experience afforded him an excellent background in ceramics.

Electric Autolite company decided to set up a research and development lavoratory at the Champlain Street factory in Toledo. This , in a sense, challenged Bob Twells to make a spark plug, the major problem being the ceramic insulator, For the first six months, Bob did patent research and found that Champion and AC Companies had pretty well covered with protection the spark plug insulators’ manufacturing techniques and composition. Hence, he had to work around these restrictions, Those familiar with spark plug insulator manufacturing realized only certain materials and compositions would give the properties necessary for a successful insulator.

Mr. Twells Plunged forward and hired Edwin (Ed) Mosthaf from AC Spark Plug Company, secured Renalto (Robbie) Robbins as a draftsman, George Schaffer as a draftsman, and Henry (Hank) Taylor as the secretary, thelatter three being “loaned” from the Electric Autolite Engineering Department. At this time, Robert (Bob) Swartzbaugh, Ernest (Ernie) Lyons, Roy Hummel, and the author, Duane (Dick) Richardson filled out the staff to “man” the laboratory of two small rooms, one being the office and the other the workshop area.

The management of Electric Autolite was apprehensive of this endeavor, because there might be a conflict of interest, due to the former connection of Mr. tells with Champion and AC and Mr, Mosthaf with AC. Consequently, this nucleus of staff men worked under tight security, Locked doors, coded orders for materials, etc. In spite of these precautions, rumors became prevalent the Electric Autolite was ready toenter the spark plug business. However, these rumors were temporarily stopped by ChryslerCorporation’s purchase of three million spark plugs from Champion. An announcement by Mr. R.A. Stranahan, Champion’s President, was supposed to have quieted a rumor that the Electric Autolite Company was to establish a spark plug plant, with Chrysler as one of its largest customers.

In the meantime, work proceeded in the laboratories of Autolite, and in order to keep this secret, all components, including the firebrick for the tunnel kilns, were manufactured in the laboratory and fired in a make-shift furnace in the one-room workshop. Subsequently, a satisfactory spark plug was made and it was tested in the engine laboratory of the main factory under the supervision of Eugene (Gene) Lowery, along with the other electrical component parts made then for Chrysler. The reaults of the first tests were such that Autolite decided to work toward the manufacturing stage.

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:10:06 +0000
Autolite: (4) Parent Firm

In 1911 Clement O. Miniger,a native of Fostoria,Ohio, and pharmaceutical salesman, heard of two South Bend, Indiana men who had invented a device to replace gas-fired head lamps with electric lamps for automobiles. He was impressed with the potential of lighting autos electrically, and brought the men and their invention to Toledo, Ohio. Here he began to manufacture a product called “Auto-liter.” This item became poplular instantly. His first company was set up in a Michigan Street storeroom in Toledo, and then moved to a location near the old Cherry Street bridge. Approximately 1,000 people were employed.

It now became evident that the automobile had a great future, and Mr. Miniger urged his engineering staff to develop an electric starting device to replace the hand crank. This was accomplished and the company “Auto-liter” was on its way.

About the same time, John Willys brought to Toledo the Willys Overland Company and manufactured the Willy automobiles.

Mr. Miniger sold the Auto-liter plant to John Willys and the former being an ambitious man, regained control of the company in 1918. Immediately he undertook a series of expansion, which included the antecedents of the corporation which stretched back to two small companies making buggy lamps. In 1934, with manufacturing of automobile lights being big business, Electric Autolite merged these two companies and another to establish its corcoran Brown Lamp Division in Cincinnati.

In 1898, the National Lead Battery Company was formed. Almost 30 years later, in 1927, Electric Autolite gained controlling interest in this company. It enlarged and operated under the name U.S.L.Battery Company. The same year Electrlic Autolite also purchased the Prest-O-Lite Battery Company and Prest_O-Lite, Ltd, in Toronto. Other battery plants were located at Niagara Falls, New York; Owosso, Michigan; Atlanta, Geogia; Vincennes, Indiana; Oklahoma City,Oklahoma; Oakland, California; Toronto, Canada; and a new plant at Los Angeles, California. Foreign companies were situated in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; Christchurch, New Zealand; and Johannesbvurg, South Africa.

In addition to the battery plants acquired, Electric Autolite brought the Starting and Lighting Division of the American Bosch Magneto Company, and purchased a wire and cable plant at Muskegon, Michigan, which later was moved to Port Huron, Michigan.

In 1934, during the depression, Electric Autolite merged with the Moto-Meter Gauge and Equipment Company of LaCrosse Wisconsin. Moto-Meter made precision industrial gauges and thermometers, molded plastic parts, and complete instrument panels containing speedometers, oil pressure gauges, gasoline guages, heat indicators and ammeters. Its lithographing, etching, and plastic division at Bay City Michigan made dials, name plates, and decorative units for automobile manufacturers and industry.

Electric Autolite continued to grow. In 1935, the Alemite Die Casting company, Woodstock, Illinois, was acquired and, in addition the component parts for Autolite, it manufactued such items as radiator grilles, door handles, and other automotive hardware.

In 1936, a bumper plant in Springfield, Ohio was purchased and then moved to a new plant at Sharonville, Ohio, while Springfield made hub caps and spring covers.


Foundry operations ran in Fostoria, Ohio; Toledo, Ohio; and Mt Vernon, Illinois, for the production of gray iron castings, which were used largely by other Autolite divisions.

In Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, practically all of the electrical units which were manufactured by United States Electric Autolite were produced for the Canadian market. A production line for the asembly of spark plugs was also set up in the plant.

After the merger of Electric Autolite and Moto-Meter Gauge and Equipment Company, Champlain Street, Toledo, became the site of the new corporate headquarters. About the same time, the company experienced a most devastating strike, when the United Auto Workers demanded recognition.

In 1954, Royce G Martin, who was then chairman of the Board and President of the Electric Autolite, died, and the company entered a period of uncertainty, as Mr. Martin had not designated a trained heir to succeed him Several unsuccessful attempts were made to revitalize the company and return it to its former status in the automotive industry. Also at that time, a change was made in the name, removing the hyphen from “Auto-lite” to Autolite.

Around 1959, the financier and industrialist, Gordon W Wattles of New York, began acquring stock through Mergenthaler-Linotype Company of New York. Mr. Wattles dominated the latter which, in turn, controlled the Electric Autolite.

“The winds of change” were noticeable in the automotive industry, and in 1961, the Ford Motor company of Dearborn, Michigan purchased the trade name “Autolite”, along with the Spark Plug Division at Fostoria, Ohio and the Owosso Battery Plant at Owosso, Michigan. The remaing portion of the Electric Autolite was renamed “Eltra Corporation.” The main Eltra Plant was located on Champlain Street in Toledo, and in 1962, after continuous labor troubles and the deterioration of manufacturing equipment, the plant was dismenbered and reorganized with its subsidiary, Prestolite, whose headquarters of four divisions was in Toledo. Jobs were transferred to Bay City Michigan; Woodstock, Illinois; East Point, Georgia; Oakland, California, and a new plant was built in Decatur, Alabama.

Eltra’s Prestolite set up engineering, accounting, and research departments at the new Hamilton Street headquarters in Toledo.

In July, 1979, Allied Chemical acquired the Eltra stock and became sole owner of Eltra Corporation and Prestolite.

In the early daysof theautomotive industry, theindependent parts suppliers were able to sell their products directly to the car manufacturers. The strength of Electric Autolite was the fact that it produced a great variety of automotive parts and accessories, which were sold to everyone and anyone. In these days, Willys Overland of Toledo was a prime customer, and Electric Autolite furnished the majority of parts for the ignition, as well as other accessories for the autos.

When the Electric Autolite merged with Moto-Meter Guage and Equipment Company, Mr, Martin, along with Harold E. Talbott, brought to Electric Autolite the Chrysler business. It was management’s opinion that a strong independent manufacturing company catering to all was the way to maintain an effective and healthy organization and, thereby, expanded its manufacturing line to over 400 procucts. Everything was done to promote the name of Electric Autolite and bring it to the public’s attention. The company had, among other things, thr chief promotional ideas to carry this out:

(a) Three years in a row, the company promoted in New York, automobile shows on television, which were known as the “The Praade of Stars”, the idea being to expose Autolite products to potential original equipment and national accounts;
(b) To tie in original equipment customers by exhibiting new cars on television, and in every Autolite location; and
(c) To build pride of workmanship in its employees.

(a) To produce the live television mystery show, “suspense”, to Promote Electric Autolite Procucts. This show had an outstanding commercial of the company’s products marching in various formations.

(a) During World War II, a Radio show was sponsored by the company called “Everything For The Boys”, starring Dick Haymes and Helen Forest, which was slanted primarily to entertain the armed forces.

After Mr. Martin’s death, Electric Autolite was faced with the loss of Chrysler’s business, inasmuch as a trend had developed in the entire automotive industry to manufacture its own componet parts and to require competitive bidding on all purchased parts. Electric Autolite needed volume in order to compete withthis trend. Manufacture of some parts was based on the volume generated by Chrysler volune, meant large losses. Also, Electrid Autolite’s advertising and marketing patterns were wrong. Original equipment sales were emphasized, by advertising the Autolite trade name on the parts. Plagued with high labor costs in obsolete plants and a history ofbitter labor labordisputes, Electric Autolite closed Toledo manufacturing operations, and moved the manufacturing of certain products to existing plants within its oranization and also started operations at Decatur, Alabama.

An interesting sidelight: A situation developed when Electric Autolite closed the Toledo-Champlain Street Plant. Aproximately 40 persons exercised ther corporate seniority rights, transferred, and commuted to the Fostoria Spark Plug Plant until their retirement.

Electric Autolite embarked on a divestiture program, selling part of its manufacturing, such as starting motors, generators,regulators, and distributors, to Chrysler, and the Spark Plug Plant Battery Plant,and the tradename, “Autolite” , to Ford Motor Company. This could be attributed to Chrysler and Ford wanting to sell their commodies as original equipmnt replacement parts with a name on them they controlled, and not encounter identical articles, with the same name, sold by chain stores, marketing associations, and auto parts replacement companies.

The former owner, Electric Autolite, became known as the Eltra Corporation and now sells the same parts under the name “Prestolite”, Which are as satisfactory as the ones promoted as orginal equipment.

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:10:48 +0000
Autolite: (5) Production Starts

The manufacturing phase of the spark plug business started in the early part of 1936, after the laboratory samples proved to be satisfactory for Chrysler corporation’s use in their engines. The procedure was to set up a manufaturing plant capable of producing a goal of 10,000 spark plugs per day. The knowledge gained in the laboratory was to be converted to production techniques. A tunnel kiln was designed, bricks were made in the laboratory, and a site was selected.

At thistime, Electric Autolite Corporation had three available vacant plants: Niagara Falls, New York, Columbus, Ohio; and Fostoria, Ohio. The latter was selected, which made Mr. C. O. Miniger happy. This plant had been purchased from the Allen Motor Car Company and was used to manufacture ignition sysstems for the Willys Overland Corporation. In 1928, the purchaser consolidated this whole operation with the Toledo works, leaving the Fostoria plant vacant.

A nunber of reasons for choosing the latter were that it had a new steam generating plant and a single-story manufacturing building shaped like a “cross”, which had been used for machining parts for ignition components. The site was near a adequate gas supply, had ample room for expansion, good parking facilities, fine railrasd connections adjacent to the land, and sufficent labor available. The thinking then was that men were to “clumsy” to do intricate manufacturing and assembling operations for the spark plug and that ladies with “nimble” fingers could do these jobs better. Consequently, over 60 percent of original employees were females.

In order to meet the deadline for starting business quickly, many production operations were performed manually, with the understanding that as the plant progressed, these tasks would be inproved and automated.

The one building shaped as a cross was selected for manufacturing, so that the production phases could be carried out without contaminating the ceramic manufacturing area. The west section adjacent to the railroad was used for the spark plug body manufacturing, the south wing for the shaping of the insulator, the east “arm” for firing and kiln work, and the north part for steel shell processing and assembling. Today, if one looks closely at the roofs of sections, this “cross” can be detected.

In the early days, the spark plug shells were purchased from The Serrick Manufacturing Company of Defiance Ohio, which at this time was a part of the Defiance Spark Plug Company. The electrodes for the spark plugs were purchased from Agnew Electrical Company of Milfork,Michigan, and these and other component parts were so secured until the plant had the capabilities of manufacturing its own. The Fostoria Machine and Tool Company on East Crocker Street, Fostoria, owned by Robert Francis, served as a tool room facility.

The expansion of plant activities required hiring additional men: Sam Churchman as Procuction Manager; Douglas (Doug) Gregory and Robert (Bob) Christie for the Development Laboratory; Clarence (Cap) Rowe, formerly an Army Captain, as Production Planner; and Alexander (Alex) Alexander, as Head of Materials’ Control Laboratory. Shortly after, Fred Reardon was secured as a quality Control man, with a Scotchman, named John MacKillop.

Upon selecting Fostoria as the “home” for the Electric Autolite Spark Plug, the building chosen for manufacturing procedures was completely renovcated, and a lay-out was made positioning all necessary esquiptment, which was rapidly being designed and built. At this stage, it was still necessary to have close security.

Inasmuch as the time was near the end of the “great depression” of the 1930’s countless people learned that a plant was being started in Fostoria and applied for work, willing to do anything for a job, really not knowing the exact nature of the new plant’s business.

Well does the author recall that the original laboratory group worked day and night, including Sundays and holidays, not only in Toledo’s workshop, but in Fostoria, to set up the machinery in the plant and solve the countless problems.

The targed date to begin production was to be the early summer of 1936. At that time a team of engineers and purchasing officers from Chrysler came to Fostoria, with the Toledo Electric Autolite Officals, to review the capabilities of the plant’s satisfying the former’s needs for supplying spark plugs for their company. They were completely satisfied with their findings, and issued orders for their requirements.

Concurrently, pressures were being applied by the Toledo Electric Autolite sales group, as they wished to sell spark plugs through their central distributing organization to the after-market, and wanted them without delay. Hence, the new plant was planning an expansion program doubling the production, even before the original goal of 10,000 spark plugs per day was reached. Therefore, it was already necessary to add to the manufacturing building in order to utilize more equipment for this increase in prouction, Whenever any expansinon anywhere in the factory took place, it required rearrangement practically in every department. “Time” and “Pressure” were key factors in these expansions, as the country was feeling the effects of the on-coming World War II rearmament.

Originally, Fostoria’s manufactory was organized as a department of the Toledo plant, in order to control cost of executive supervision. This involved phases in purchasing, accounting, product development, planning, sales, personnel, plant engineering, production controls, etc.

It soon became evident that the plant could not be operated by “remote control”, so, at this time, Robert Twells moved to Fostoria as Plant Manager, along with the original laboratory personnel, who then took managerial positions in the firm. All main functions came to Fostoria, except the product design and development and sales. Mr. Twells brought with him the ceramic development function.

It would be necessary to manufacture all component parts of the spark plug in Fostoria to control costs, and the equipment was secured to do so. Floor space was gained by absorbing the old Peabody Buggy Works, with machinery on the ground floor, and the offices and laboratories from the original manufaacturing building were moved to the second floor. The service departments, such as electrical and mechanical maintenance, the machine shop, the screw machines welders, and other equipment for processing shells and electrodes also occupied part of the ground floor. The third floor of the building was used primarily for carton storage.

It had been planned to demolish the Peabody Buggy Works building, and replace it with a new structure, However, because of the scarcity of materials, this could not be accomplished.

To keep up production schedules, many rearrangements had to be accomplished over weekends or on holidays. Outside riggers were hired to supplement the plant’s maintenance crew, working continuously without a break, from Friday night to Monday morning, or full time over a holiday.

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:11:10 +0000
Autolite: (6) Unions

“Unions” In the Fostoria’s Spark Plug Plant

The Fostoria Spark Plug Plant started operation as an “open” factory. However, the “parent” Toledo firm, in 1936, had just experienced a very devastating strike, where even bloodshed resulted from a tremendous battle between the Independent Union and the faction backed by the UAW-CIO, with the National Guard in the middle. As a result of this strike, the local management of the plant felt that it should have means of communicating with the workers; hence, a so-called “Independent” Union was formed. Earl Beil was its first President; Ralph Barbour was the Industrial Relations person who represented the commpany.

In 1943, a plant group of hourly employees felt it should be represented by the UAW_CIO. This unit of people petitioned the Federal Labor Relations Board to hold an election at the factory, giving the workers an opportunity to choose between the unions. Even though the plant was sincere in trying to match the wages and benefits that a national group could offer, the majority of the employees showed its desire to belong to UAW-CIO. Joseph Wingates was the first President of this Union, Local 533, and Robert Swartzbaugh represented the company as Industrial Relations Manager. The Union became the sole bargaining agent for the plant workers. Needless to say, there were some hard feelings evident during the organizational drive of UAW-CIO. It was a few years before these attitudes disappeared.

For expedient purposes, the local UAW-CIO and the company in Fostoria operated with two contracts: one, the national agreement, which dealt with conditions common in all organized plants of the insurance, sick leaves, holiday pays, etc. and two, the local agreement, which was a guide to the specific problems of the plant, such as job bidding, plant and depantmental seniority, safety, security, grievance procedures, etc. This type of organization worked well, and exist even up to the present.

(Early pictures and developement of Autolite site on North Union Street)



]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:13:22 +0000
Autolite: (7) The War Years

Prior to 1940, the Electric Autolite Plant of Fostoria experienced good growth in the automotive and jobber business. In the years after 1940, increasing sales were evident, as the spark plug became more accepted by the general public and automotive manufacturers due to a very aggressive advertising campaign.

Factory equipment accounts, such as Chrysler, Nash, Willys Overland, International Harvester, etc. formed the basis of the replacement market. Previous to World War II in Europe, export shipments to European distributors had been very good, but this business stopped as shipments to these countries became impossible. European commerce decrease was counteracted by increasing trade with the South American, African, and Asian countries, and others not engaged in the war exertions. The occupation of France and different European countries also affected the supplies of raw materials used. New methods and formulas had to be developed, using substitute ingredients which could be purchased in this country. However, India and Australia were sources of ceramic supplies, but problems developed in finding shipping space on the boats for these materials, with natural preference going to war supplies.

In 1942, the production of passenger automobiles for the general public was stopped. This was a major blow to the electric Autolite Spark Plug Plant. It was difficult to make spark plugs because of material shortages and the low priority rating granted by the goverment to the manufacturers of replacement parts for the automotive industry.

Many trips were taken to Washington, D.C. in an effort to convince goverment officials that automotive replacement business for service vehicles was as important as the ordinance market. In order to remain in operation, it was found necessary to secure more goverment business with high priority ratings, and since spark plug orders had been given other companies, Electric Autolite could not obtain contracts. The corporate officials pointed out that there were only three complete major spark plug companies in the Western Hemisphere, and if, for any reason, the United States would lose the production of any of the three, by sabotage or by unavoidable circumstances (fire, explosion, etc.) the country would be in serious trouble.

It was not until April 24, 1942, after the Quarter Master Corps began to place its own spark plug orders, that the first contract was received by the Fostoria plant, and with it the necessary priorities to obtain materials.

The first order was very small, and was shipped promptly. Trivial orders were continually received and, constantly during this time, the company officals were trying to explain the need for Fostoria to be kept as a viable plant.

During the above period, people were employed at the plant, manufacturing twenty millimeter tracer shells for machine guns. The company was a sub-contractor to the Fostoria Screw Products Company which was located on South Union Street now site of Ex-cell-O

The first large order for 2 1/2 million spark plugs was placed with the plant in October, 1942 and in May, 1943, another was received for 10 million. This was the beginning of the factory’s real particaipation in the war effort. Spark plugs were finally recognized as a vital part necessary for these troubled times.

Every branch of the military, Navy, Engineers, Singnal Corp, Air corp wanted its spark plugs packaged differently. One of the Chrysler contracts for tank replacement spark plugs specified that they be especially prepared in wire-bound boxes, 500 per box.

Spark plugs had to be packaged for protection when shipped all over the world. One method was to wrap each one in a special paper and cloth, and dip it into hot wax. This was termed “strip coating” , and protected the spark plugs from salt water corrosion during invasion of some south Pacific Islands. Some shipments had to be delivered by the Supply Ship standing off shore and dumping the boxes overboard, allowing them to float to the beach. Another type of packaging was to wrap the spark plugs in wax papper and placing then in tin cans, with a pack of silica jell to absorb the mosture. These latter were for the Navy to store on board ship.

As the war effort continued to mount, the quality and quantity of spark plugs manufactured improved considerably, due to research and development work on the product and equipment, and the Fostoria plant’s ability to meet the demanding shipping schedules

Autolite spark plugs were on every “front” of the war, in the Pacific and Italy with our forces, and “lend-lease” for our Allies, Russia, England, and China. They were used in every conceivable application of internal combustion engines. From time to time, the plant recived favorable reports about the spark plugs used in actual service, where they were undergoing terrific “punishment>”. A large number of former employees, who were in the service and based all over the world, wrote to the plant back home, telling about the good work the spark plugs were prerforming in the fields.

There were many production obstacles: large turnover and absenteeism of production personnel often required three workers for every job; gasoline rationing and shortage came, which resulted in the people sharing rides; floor space was limited, and every available spot was utilized; equipment could not be purchased, so that many production operations had to revert to hand methods, until the needed machinery could be made in the factory’s own machine shop; and persons with no previous experience were employed, working just to be patriotic. A current joke was that, if one could walk into the plant, one would be hired.

From the start of the plant to the time of the war, there were no labor stoppages, and the employees’ earning compared favorably with any other plant in the vicinity.

Since goverment contracts were received, the plant’s security system had to be intensified under the direction of the F.B.I. The number of guards was doubled, escort service in the plant put into practice, a record system kept of all vistors to the factory, fingerprinting of all employees took place, and each was furnished with a picture badge, which was to be worn at all times.

The company pushed goverment war bond drives, using literature, mass meetings, and personal contacts, The number of employees for bond deductions was practically 100 percent, and the amounnts subscribed were above average. The plant conducted extensive scrap drives for metal, paper, and any other vital material that could be used at this critlical time. A working safety committee was established, with extensive recordings of any accident, and registered nurses were on duty when the plant operated.

The chief duty of the engineering department in the plant was to work out the substitution problems of limited supplies of materials. A classic example was to weld a steel insert to the center electrode stud and weld upon it a nickel tip in order to conserve nickel. Conservation of copper took place by replacing the copper gasket with a steel gasket.

Most of the previous efforts were directed to the manufacture of automotive spark plugs. However, because of the large build-up of the Air Force, there was required of the company to increased building of aircaft spark plugs at the rate of 5,000 per day. This truly put a terrific strain on the engineering personnel. The whole product engineering staff had put in approximately three years of intensive effort to design and qualify these paticular spark plugs. Once again laboratory techniques had to be translated to mass production. New epuipment had to be built to do the job along with a tunnel kiln, capable of firing ceramic insulators to a temperature of 3,100 degrees Farenheit, which was near the peak obtainable from the use of natural gas. Machines had to be designed to make the parts and floor space was needed to complete the requirements for this work. Then came a natural gas shortage, and the problem was solved by vaporizing oil and burning it in the same burners.

During the start of manufacturing aircraft spark plugs, hand methods were used to produce the test lots of 2,000 of each type. Precious metals, such as platinum, gold, silver, etc.were used in the assembling of these special plugs. Working these precious materials required techniques not used here-to-fore.

A particular assembly operation required a “sleeve” of steel to be brazed to a steel shell part using a silver soder, and a large induction heating machine was developed to do this operation continuously. The methods now were under close observation of a government inspector assigned to live in the plant, because of the spark plugs’ critical use in air-planes on fighting missions.

In the early stages of manufacturing the aircraft plug, a statistical sample of each lot made was taken and thoroughly tested by the government inspector, before they were shipped.

Inasmuch as the plant did not have any manufacturing defects in the aircraft plugs, and the quality control department had reduced to writing all procedures and documented results, the factory won the right to ship by certification. This type of privilege was the first to be granted in the spark plug industry.

The original aircraft facility was located to the south of the kiln department, and the ceramic workings were caged in the ceramic department. Strict secrity was constantly maintained to avoid any sabotage. The employees of this area wore on their badges special color, indicating their special work assignment.

In 1943, at Fostoria’s Spark Plug plant a new wing was completed, which was in the proximity of the final assembly lines of the present. This afforded better working conditions, and the expansion to the goal of 5,000 aircraft units per day.

After the war years, the Fostoria plant proudly received an Army and Navy “E” Award for excellence, due to its role in producing a product that was such a great help in winning the war.


Insert Army & Navy Award letter “E” for Excellence

Employees who served in the Armed Forces

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:15:48 +0000
Autolite: (8) Fostoria Spark Plug Plant Purchased by Ford Motor Company

The fortunes, of the Electric Autolite Company and the Fostoria Spark Plug Division had been deteriorating since1959. The principal customer, Chrysler, had experienced hard times, and other customers, such as Nash, Hudson, willys Overland, Packard, etc., were going out of business or merging with others. Leadership at Chrysler had changed and it became its desire to manufacture as many of its own products as possible. They had been nogotiating with the “parent” plant, Electric Autolite Company of Toledo, for the starter, voltage regulator, generator, distributor, etc. and also investigating the possibility of purchasing these items from other sources. This affected the Fostoria division, inasmuch as the spark plug was usually sold as part of a “package deal”. Autolite’s rivals were attempting to sell spark plugs to the entire Electric Autolite Corporation had passed to New York financiers. All these conditions combined made the Fostoria plant’s position critical.

Secret negotiations were entered into by Ford Motor Company with Electric Autolite to purchase from them certain assets. This would be beneficial to Ford, as it was hopeful that it would enter the lucrative “after-market’ business in a very strong way.

On Wednesday April 12,1961 at 3:30 A.M. EST, the following news item was to be released: “following is a statement by Henry Ford II, chairman of the Board of Ford Motor Company, and Robert H. Davies, President of the Electric Autolite Company, Toledo O.

“The companies also have entered in an agreement under which Electric Autolite will sell a substantial volume of automotive parts to Ford.

“The plants purchased by Ford are a battery plant located at Owosso, Mich., and a spark plug plant at Fostoria, O. Ford plans to continue production at both locations.

“The Electric Autolite company will continue to manufacture and market spark plugs and batteries, and other automotive products, including electrical products, wire and die castings, for sale to automotive manufacturers and others, for both original equipment and replacement. These products will be sold primarily under trade names of The Electric Autolite Company, such as “Prest-O-Lite” and “Rebat”. or under trade names owned by its customers.

“Spark plug manufacture will be conducted by The Electric Autolite company at the plant of its subsidiary at Sarnia, Ont., and at an additional assembly facility which The Electric Autolite Company is planning in another location in the United States. Automotive battery manufacture willbe continued at other Electric Autolite Company plants including five in the United States: at Vincennes, ind., Reading, Palk; Atlanta, Ga.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Oakland, Calif. Electrical products will continue to be made at The Electric Autolite Company’s various other plants.

“Included in the purchase by Ford are certain patents and license rights and the rights to the trade name ‘Autolite’, except in Canada, Brazil and Venezuela where The Electric Autolite Company will continue to distribute under the ‘Autolite’ trade name. In addition, Electric Autolite will continue to supply spark plugs and batteries under the ‘Autolite’ trade name to its original equipment manufacturer customers.

“Electric Autolite also will make available to Ford its sales organization for distributing in the replacement market spark plugs, batteries and electrical products. With the help of this organization, Ford will sell spark plugs, batteries and electrical products bearing the ‘Autolite’ brand name to distributors and other independent outlets.

“The transaction, which involved the payment by Ford of approximately $28,000,000 in cash, was authorized by the Boards of the two companies.”

After this announcement, each employee at the Fostoria plant received the following letter from Mr. Henry Ford II;

“April 12,1961

“To: Electric Auto-lite Company Salaried
Employees Owosso and Fostoria Plants
and Designated Sales and Engineering

“Ford Motor Company today has purchased certain assets of The Electric Auto-Lite Company used in connection with spark plug operations at Fostoria, Ohio, and its battery operation at Owosso, Michigan, and has received assignments of certain Electric Auto-lite company Parts Distribution agreements.

“It is natural, of course, that your immediate reaction to this announcement may be one of concern over the effect of the change upon your employment status. The primary purpose of this letter is to inform you about the plans of Ford Motor Company with respect to the opportunities which will be afforded you as a result of the purchase.

“First, with almost no exceptions, all of The Electric Auto-Lite company employees involved will be given the opportunity of continuing in their present capacities at their present salaries which, beginning tomorrow, will be paid by Ford Motor Company. It is our sincere hope that you will accept this opportunity.

“ Second,Ford Motor company will credit you with your length of service with The Electric Auto-Lite Company. It is our intent to treat you, foremost employee benefit purposes as though you had been employed by Ford Motor Company since your employment date with The Electric Auto-Lite Company.

“Third, you may become eligible to participate in all of the many benefits programs for salaried employees because we know that very few companies in the entire country can match them. Further, we are endeavoring to make arrangements that will transfer your creditable service under Electric Auto-Lite Pension Plan to the Ford Retirement Plan so as to minimize the effect that your change of employment will have on your retirement benefits. Arrangements have also been made so that there will be no gap in insurance and hospitalization coverage, if you enroll under Ford’s insurance program.

“We realize that you will have many questions not touched upon in this letter concerning what employment with Ford will mean to you. In the near future, therefore, you will be given an opportunity to talk with a representative of Ford about the company’s policies and benefit plans. In the meantime the attached booklet, “Going Places With Ford”, which is furnished to all Ford Salaried personnel, should acquaint you with the general provisions of some of our major personnel programs. We urge you to read it carefully.

“We know that Ford is the kind of organization that most people want to be associated with, and that you , too will find employment with Ford both challenging and rewarding.

Henry Ford II

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:16:27 +0000
Autolite: (9) More Expansion

From the time Ford Motor Company took over as owner of the Fostoria Spark Plug Plant, there was constant pressure for better quality and more plugs.

It was obvious to the directors of the firm that the Ford sales Group ws really selling the merchandise, and it was essential that the organization do its part and procure the best quality spark plugs to meet the challenge. All methods had to be constantly improved, so that the products could be manufactured at competitive prices.

In order to have better control on costs and quality, a systematic plan was initiated to bring all parts’ manufacturing operations into Fostoria. To reduce cost of the manufacture of each component, new easy, such as “cold-forming” the shells and “glass-sealing” the center electrodes into the insulators, were developed to a very high degree. It was the idea to combine various operations in producing component parts to avoid handling, so that once a part was placed onto a conveyor line, it never stopped until it was assembled and placed in the shipping carton. Ford Motor Company was very receptive to these proposals, and the conditions were right to accept these plans.

As previously mentioned, immediately on “takeover” of the company by Ford Motor , expansion of production floor space was necessary. In the years 1962, 1965, 1966,and 1968 major additions were made.

An interesting ceremony took place in May, 1965 when The Honorable James A. Rhodes, Governor of Ohio, helped Ford officials break ground for the new million dollar Administration Building. Assisting were Richard L. Krabach, state Finance Director, and Phil D. Brubaker, Mayor of Fostoria. This was the first time for Ford Motor without also constructing a manufacturing plant. This modern structure replaced the old Peabody Buggy Works Company building that had previously been revamped and had served as an Administration Building from 1936 to 1966. Now the old building was demolished, and Fostoria lost one of its oldest landmarks.

For the company, this new addition increased its floor space by 90,000 square feet, and allowed for more products to be produced.

In the Ford years of April 13, 1961 to October, 1973, there were made, one billion, six hundred ninety-one million, seven hundred eighty three thousand (1,691,783,000) spark plugs; twenty-four million, fifty thousand (24,050,000) PCV valves; fifteen million (15,000,000) water temperature switches; and twenty-eight million seven hundred thousand (28,700,00) rotor stops. In contrast, the spark plugs made under the Electric Autolite Company, 1936 through April 13, 1961 were nine hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred thousand (937,500,000).

May 10,1967 was an outstanding day for the plant and the city. The “cutting of the ribbon” and dedication the completed Administration building took place. The speaker for the occasion was Mr. F. P. Neuenschwander, State Development Department Director. Representing the owner were: C. H. Patterson, Executive Vice-President, Ford Motor Company; Clinton D. York, General Manager, General Parts Division; John McDougall, Assistant Manager, General Parts Division; and W. E Scollard, General Operations Manager, General Parts Division. Mayor George W. Peeler proclaimed the week or May 7, 1967 as “Ford in Fostoria Week”

By this time employment had risen to 1,600 persons; the annual payroll being approximately $11,000,000; production of spark plugs was up to 126,000,000 per year; and the spark plug plant was responsible for purchases amounting to $13,800,000.

It was no wonder that from the days of apprehension in early 1961, when Ford Motor company purchased the Spark Plug Plant, that Fostoria and surrounding communities came to look upon this outstanding plant as one of the best places to work, and indeed the prosperity of the factory was felt through out the whole northwestern part of Ohio.

]]> (Super User) AutoLiteSpaarkPlug Tue, 15 May 2012 13:16:56 +0000