When Cadillac Changed the Game

It was one of the most significant innovations in the history of the automobile.

It was one of the most significant innovations in the history of the automobile. It was a complete game changer.”

That’s Greg Wallace, director of the General Motors Heritage Center, talking about something that people don’t merely take for granted, they tend not to even know they exist. He’s talking about the electric starter. Cadillac deployed one in its 1912 Touring Edition, and the GM brand has been pretty much been at the forefront of automotive electrical and electronic tech since.


Consider that pre-electric starter it was necessary to crank an engine with, well, a crank. Perhaps one of the only analogies that still exist to that quasi-herculean task is pulling the cord on a lawnmower or outboard motor, but even those, for the most part, have gone electric starter.

Henry Leland, who started Cadillac, worked with the inventor of the electric starter, Charles F. Kettering, to make it applicable to his cars. As Leland was an expert machinist and precision manufacturer (the “Standard of the World” phrase essentially came from Leland’s work on component standardization and interchangeable parts: it was all about precision manufacturing that was unmatched), he had a good grasp of making technology work.

Cadillac rolled on introducing such things as the V8 engine, synchromesh transmission, automatic climate control, heated seats, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, automotive night vision, and magnetorheological shocks. And there have been and will be more.

But we agree with Wallace and think that electric starter is perhaps unparalleled in its importance to the proliferation of the automobile.