I was there


Delco-Light Portable Generator with Sales Display, 1937

I was there...

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Written by Mike Brazeau

Charles Kettering and Edward A. Deeds formed the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) in Dayton, Ohio. DELCO was originally a research and development company but began manufacturing to meet the demand of the automobile self-starter they had developed. In 1916 Billy Durant bought DELCO under his United Motors Corporation holding company and it was folded into General Motors in 1920. One of their other widely known inventions was the Delco-Light Plant. It was a gasoline powered electric generator that powered many farms in rural areas across the country before electricity was readily available.

By 1930, 90% of urban America had the benefit of electricity but only 10% of rural America had been electrified. My mother recalls, as a child growing up on her parents farm in rural Greytown, Ohio in the 1930’s, hearing the hum of the "Delco" (as they called it) and the rows of glass batteries lined up on the shelves in the garage. The generator would run a few hours a day and store electricity in the batteries for use as needed. There were some 100 different models built over the years but the 850-watt, 32 volt DC unit accounted for 75% of the production. Being a unique 32-volt system, DELCO also sold the appliances to go with the light plants.

There had been nearly 150 different companies manufacturing home light plants with General Gas & Electric, Westinghouse Machine Company, Kohler Company and Fairbanks-Morse being a few of the more famous, but Delco-Light was clearly one of the most successful. They had sold more than 350,000 units by 1935.

DELCO built light plants for the war effort during WWII and continued production after the war but Congress passing President Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act in 1936 had finally brought electricity to most rural areas and in 1947 production of the Delco-Light unit had ceased.

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