Prosper Champion Page
by Rich Street
This text is incomplete and awaiting further information and editing.
Prosper Champion was born in France, nine years after his brother, Albert, on December 14, 1887. Prosper was over shadowed by his older brother for all of his life and left little of himself on the terrain of automotive history other than a name on a law suit that is still cited today and a few boxes of spark plugs.
Albert Champion, initially made his fame as an international bicycle racer and used that notoriety to gain entry into the small, but booming auto industry. Within ten years of starting a business selling ignition parts he became one of the top two spark plug producers in the world. His name became legendary in the world of spark plugs as well as for the way he lived his life. He was known as “the most colorful character“ in an industry full of colorful characters.
Prosper never lived up to his name or his brother, nor did is brother share power. Prosper spent his life as a working man. Little is known about his early days. The Flint Journal reports that according to a document they have, Prosper was making spark plugs in France in 1904, which would have meant he most-likely worked for DeDion-Bouton. The date Prosper Immigrated to the United States is up for discussion. The 1920 census says 1908, the 1930 census says 1906, and the Flint Journal says 1909. In any event Prosper has yet to be located in the 1910 census records.
In 1908 Albert moved to Flint to set up a new spark plug company in the Buick factory in partnership with Billy Durant and Albert Schmidt.
In 1911 a law suit was filed by Albert Champion and Durant against the Champion Spark Plug Company over the Champion name. Albert’s “Champion Ignition Company” produced “A-C” spark plugs and other items branded AC, while the suit dragged on. The case wasn’t settled until 1922 and ended in Champion Spark Plug’s favor. Champion Ignition Company became AC. This law suit should have been a warning to Prosper of things to come.
In 1914, Prosper came to work for his Albert at
the Champion Ignition Company in engineering and sales. Having lost an eye sometime prior to World War I
Prosper was exempted from the draft. On May 10, 1914 Prosper
accidentally hit a 10 year old child while driving an auto he had
borrowed from a friend, accounts show he was living in Gloucester,
Massachusetts. 1917 draft records show him working
as an assistant engineer for his brother at Champion Ignition in Flint.
In 1919, he joined the spark plug company's foreign sales department and worked with Champion's French and English affiliates.
In 1920 the family resided at 2234 Detroit Street in Flint and Prosper was employed as a salesman/engineer.
Albert Champion’s Champion Ignition Company changed its name to AC Spark Plug in 1922. In the same year, AC opened an English branch manufacturing Spark Plug and in 1923 Albert Champion becomes the majority stock holder in AC Sphinx Sparking Plug Company in Birmingham, England.
Albert loved to frequently travel back to France for business and visits and Prosper did so in 1923 and again in 1924, He arrived at Ellis Island just a few days before Christmas in 1924, having just celebrated his 37th birthday a week before returning from France.
In 1927, with one brother, Louis, living in New York, and the other brother Albert at the top of his game and visiting France, Prosper was devastated to learn of Albert’s death. Prosper was convinced that his brother died as a result of foul play, contrary to official findings. He carried this belief for years to come and he held a grudge against his brother’s wife, blaming her, in part, for Albert’s death.
1928 Prosper was working for AC spark plug and his inheritance helped
him to afford a 3,000 square foot home in Flint on Woodside Drive. The
home was valued at $35,000 in 1930, big money considering the
depression. The small land parcel was only .15 acre, but the house was
adorned with tile from the Flint Faience Tile Company. The tile company
was one of the best Arts & Crafts tile companies in the United States in
the 1920s and 1930s, the tile company was a subsidiary of AC Spark Plug
in Flint. In 1930 Prosper listed his occupation as a salesman in the
auto industry. He, his wife Flora, and three sons lived in the home. The
5 bedroom house still stands today.
Prosper and his brother, Louis, received
relatively small settlements from the Albert Champion estate, while
Albert’s spend-thrift wife received the bulk. She spent lavishly and
ended up living with a man that it was claimed struck Albert Champion
just prior to his death, possibly causing the fatality.
After 20 years with A.C., Prosper went to work for C.V.S. Manufacturing Company. C.V.S. made the "Flint Spark Plug" and their offices were at Sixth and Water Streets in Flint. In documents dated April 13, 1934 the officers of C.V.S. are listed as: G.G. Somers, President; R.B. Vessey, Vice President; A.R. Campbell, Treasurer; and Prosper Champion, Manger of Sales Promotion and Research. All of these men were ex-A.C. employees; Somers, Vessey, and Campbell were also ex-Buick folks.
Prosper finally decided to make his own fortune in spark plugs. He opened the Prosper Champion Manufacturing Company of Flint, Michigan and manufactured the “Prosper Champion” spark plugs. Champion Spark Plug Company of Toledo filed suit, claiming that Prosper entered business just to take advantage of his last name (Champion Spark Plug Co. v. Champion, 23 F. Supp. 638 (E.D. Mich 1938)). Champion Spark Plug Company won and in 1938 Prosper was enjoined from making spark plugs under Prosper Champion Spark Plug Company. The company was renamed the Prosper C Company and spark plugs were now marked "prosper C."
During World War II Prosper went back to work for AC Spark Plug as a technical representative with the Air Corps. He was cited by the Air Corps for "outstanding services in a position of trust and responsibility" in World War II.
Louis, Prosper's son, was an actor and enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the end of March in 1942. He became a pilot and on at least one occasion met his father in Europe during the war. Louis was killed in 1944 in Italy over the Adriatic. The military did not immediately declare Louis dead, but rather considered him missing in action. The story is told that when the government finally declared him dead they sent the notice to the family home and upon reading the notice, his mother, Mrs. Champion suffered a fatal heart attack and died on the front lawn of the family home. Prosper suffered a terrible double loss.
Prosper later married a much younger women, Irene, in 1946 and began a new family, having two more children. Irene had been born in 1913 and graduated from Flint Central High School in Flint in 1931. Irene loved attention and was free to air the family laundry of scandals in a 1977 piece for the Flint Journal written by Ed Conaway.
Finally in 1949 Prosper retired from AC Spark Plug company.
Prosper Henry Champion died in February, 1957. He was survived by two sons from his first marriage, Paul Henri, who died in San Diego, California in 1988 and Albert P., who died in Los Angeles in 1980. By his second marriage there was his wife Irene who died in 1998 and son, Joe Champion of Venice Florida and daughter, Suzanne Champion of Flint.
last updated 02/03/2006Special thanks to Dale P. Mark, former AC employee, for his insights and contributions.
1940 Prosper C Spark Plug Chart (.58 MB .PDF)