His Tiny Workshop Sparked the Automotive Industry

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 29, 2011 | Go to article overview
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His Tiny Workshop Sparked the Automotive Industry

Byline: Steven Reive Wheelbase Media

The spark of automotive genius begins one cold December day late in 1901, in a small German factory that employs a few dedicated, yet unknown, workers.

A 30-year-old man with an ever-lengthening beard and a receding hairline is bent over at the waist, glancing over the shoulder of his talented assistant.


In the blink of an eye, time stands still.

In the blink of an eye, an invention is created, an empire is born and a man's vision is no longer just a vision.

"You really have hit the bull's-eye," Robert Bosch tells Gottlob Honold, slapping his colleague on the back.

In Honold's hand is the world's first spark plug.

The new development, a high-voltage magneto (or electrical generator) ignition unit, would be an extension of something Bosch himself invented just four years earlier.

How significant was that day?

The auto industry was revolutionized by the little plug of power and Robert Bosch, the owner, the dreamer and the believer, would never be the same.

Until that point, vehicle ignition systems were unreliable at best. Carl Benz, the famous automotive inventor, had once described them as "the problem of all problems."

Some caught fire. Others rapidly emptied motorcar batteries leaving their owners stranded on dirt paths in the middle of nowhere.

Bosch had an alternative. His system could be fit to any size engine and, down the line, would allow for more horsepower.

Within 12 months, Bosch, the company, patented the device, paving the way for a small German company to become a worldwide enterprise.

Bosch had taken the risk and he would reap the rewards. The path was hardly direct.

Born in 1861 in a small village in southwest Germany, he was the 11th of 12 children. A curious and confident boy, when his father asked whether he wanted to be a precision mechanic after he finished secondary school, little Robert had one cool and collected answer.

"Yes, of course I do."

After earning a journeyman's certificate, Bosch left his small town, working wherever he could learn the most. He visited Cologne where his older brother, Karl, ran a plumbing business. He also attended a technical school in Stuttgart "in order to shed my fear of technical jargon," he later said.

In the spring of 1884, Bosch traveled to America and eventually found himself in the company of Thomas Edison while working for a short time at Edison Machine Works.

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