Champion Spark Plug: The First 20 Years
By Rich Street
Albert Champion formed the Albert Champion Company in 1905 with Frank D. and Spencer Stranahan. On June 24th Certificate # 1 in the amount of 51 shares was issued by the Albert Champion Company to Albert Champion with Albert signing as President and F.D. Stranahan signing as Treasurer. The Stranahans knew how to run a business, while Albert did sales and design. The Albert Champion Company started in Boston's South End, in the Cyclorama Building, presently headquarters for the Boston Center for Fine Arts. A bronze plaque outside the Cyclorama Building marks the spot.
The Albert Champion Company started selling imported ignition items and began manufacturing their own. It did well enough for the Stranahan brothers to put a younger brother, Robert, through Harvard. Albert Champion, the company’s namesake, left the company in late 1908 to move to Flint, Michigan and begin the Champion Ignition Company (later to become A-C).
The Albert Champion Company introduced the “X” spark plug in 1909 while still in Boston, but never used the “word mark” of “X” on their plugs until early 1911. The simple CHAMPION name was used on the early plugs. This simple all capital letter logo looks suspiciously (almost same font) like the “CHAMPION” logo first used commercially in 1894 by the Stark Brothers Nurseries & Orchards Company and trademarked in July, 1905. Did they steal the company logo off an apple crate? With an ego like Albert Champion’s it just might have happened.
In the winter of 1909 Robert A. Stranahan became manager of the Albert Champion Company, in partnership with his two brothers Spencer and Frank. Spencer handled manufacturing and Frank was the finance man. The first year’s spark plug production was less than 50,000.
Spencer died in winter 1910 and the following spring the remaining two brothers moved the plant to Toledo, Ohio to be closer to the Willys-Overland Auto Company. The move to Toledo, required by the Willys contract, was into the second floor of the Holmes Snow Flake Laundry building. Robert Stranahan later described the move, “We came to Toledo with spark plug manufacturing equipment loaded in two box cars and and saddled with a $22,000 debt.”
The Champion Spark Plug Company became incorporated on July 2nd, 1910. The first 3 share certificates were issued to Fred Baker, Burton Ames and Randolph Frothingham. Fred Baker signed as president and Frothingham as Treasurer. On July 10th, Messrs. Baker, Frothingham and Ames signed over their shares to Robert Stranahan, Frank Stranahan, and Charles Walker. The company grew as did the Stranahan’s shares, but on January 31st, 1912 Elizabeth Whithall Stranahan, mother to the Stanahan brothers, was issued 1000 shares, making her near equal to the holdings of her sons.
With a month James D. Robertson applied for Champion Spark Plug's first patent on August 5, 1910. The application was for a terminal clip design. It was issued on July 18, 1911 with the number of 998,304.
In 1911, Ford bought 200,000 spark plugs from Champion and by 1919 Ford was purchasing 3,500,000. Also, in 1911 a law suit was filed by Albert Champion, GM and Durant against the Champion Spark Plug Company over the Champion name. The case was later settled in the 1920’s in Champion Spark Plug’s favor.
The first production Model T Ford was assembled in Detroit on October 1, 1908. With it came Henry Ford’s intrusion into spark plugs. DeDion had previously set the standard threads for plugs at 18 mm and at the same time the first Model T rolled off the line the American Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM, forerunner of the SAE) chose the 7/8-18 thread as the standard, but Henry had a dislike for metrics and the ALAM so he introduced the ½ inch pipe thread spark plug in the Model T.
Ford spark plug records are not available, for 1908 through mid-1912. Beginning in Mid-1912 Ford archives show purchase contracts from both Champion Spark Plug Company and Champion Ignition Company. Between 1912 and 1915 Ford used four different brands of plugs. According to the Model T Ford Club of America, Mezger Spark Plugs were used during 1913 and 1914, AC Spark Plugs between 1912 and 1913, Mosler Spark Plugs in 1914 and the Champion “X” Spark Plug from 1912 on.
The early Champion X plug was straight sided porcelain with a simple locking nut and knurled thumb nut on top. It lacked the “double-ribbed” insulator with brass top that was included on later plugs and on modern reproductions of the Champion X and 3X. The “brass hat” style insulator on the Champion X was not introduced until 1915 or 1916. This coincides with Champion’s purchase of the Jeffery-DeWitt Company, a small spark plug manufacturer, in 1915. Part of the reason for purchase was the expertise held by Dr. Joseph Jeffery and his brother Benjamin. Dr. Jeffery was an expert in insulator research and Benjamin was the one who designed production equipment. The crimped on “brass hat” is first seen on Jeffery’s patent 942,646, applied for in 1906. It was Jeffery who discovered the Sillimanite mines in California for Champion.
Around 1912 Champion spark plugs were being exported to Europe from first the United States and subsequently Champion Spark Plugs Canadian subsidiary. In 1922 the Champion Sparking Plug Company Ltd. was set up in the United Kingdom.
In 1927, the same year as Albert Champion’s death, Champion Spark Plug designed a Number 3 spark plug and in January of 1928 the new Champion 3X spark plug, designed specifically for the Model A was introduced in the automotive press.