Delco-Light Farm Electric Plant

1916 -1947

 












  1. Welcome and thank you for visiting Dr. Delco. A destination devoted to sharing and preserving a great American story that has been lost to time. A story of two men, a machine, and an era when individuals produced their own electricity.

  2. BulletCharles F. Kettering - Inventive genius and great American engineering icon

  3. BulletThe Delco-Light Electric Plant - His invention to bring the marvels of electricity to farms and country homes across America and the thriving industry that it created.

  4. BulletWayne “Dr. Delco” Sphar who spent a lifetime collecting, restoring, and preserving the wonderful Delco-Light story for future generations.

 

Charles F. Kettering’s inventive genius and immense humanity have affected our modern life in many profound ways. America’s second most prolific inventor’s achievements covered the entire range of scientific disciplines and products - cash registers, automotive electric systems, engine technology, fuels, paint, refrigeration, trains, and cancer research to name a few. One of his most significant accomplishments, electrifying country homes and farms with the famous Delco-Light electric plant, is probably the one least remembered in a life-time of achievement. Lost to history but for the singular efforts of one man, it deserves a second look as a model for the future.


In 1916, Kettering founded the Domestic Engineering Company and introduced the Delco-Light electric plant to bring the wonders of electricity to homes, farms, and businesses in rural America. Joining with battery and appliance manufacturers, Delco-light offered a complete electric power system for “flameless lighting”, “running water”, and convenient labor saving equipment and appliances. It was an immediate success and a new 300,000 sq. ft. factory employing thousands was built in Dayton, Ohio. The Delco-light plant was sold nationwide through a sophisticated dealer and installation network. The success created an entire industry to supply farm electric plants to rural and remote homes, businesses, schools, churches, small towns, resorts, and even yachts. In the late 1920’s sales would surpass 325,000, over 150 companies were offering farm electric plants to compete with Delco-Light, and the market was estimated at 2.5 million units. In the early 1930’s, nearly 2 dozen companies were producing wind generators to compete or be used with farm electric plants. Several hundred companies throughout the country were manufacturing appliances, equipment, and batteries, or selling, installing, or servicing farm electric plants and equipment. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 would change the market forever and end this vibrant industry in a short period of time. The companies would convert temporarily to support the WW II effort before changing to related markets or closing down and being lost and forgotten as America moved on.


Wayne Sphar, known to all as Dr. Delco, with a spark of curiosity found a Delco-Light in a junk yard in the early 1960’s. It would launch the “doctor” on a lifetime of collecting, restoring, and preserving any and all things related to Delco-Light farm electric plants. Attending antique engine shows and traveling the back roads for the next 40 years resulted in a collection of over 40 Delco-Lights, hundreds of appliances and related equipment, promotional items, and treasure trove of printed materials documenting the sophistication of the Delco-Light product and organization. Between a job in the coal mines, driving a school bus, and various business ventures, in his spare time he painstakingly restored every piece of equipment to operating order. He created Dr. Delco’s Delco-Light Museum to display the wonderfully restored equipment, share his knowledge, and introduce visitors, many from faraway places, to the scientific marvel of the Delco-Light farm electric plant. He closed down the museum a few years back and sold his entire equipment collection to a private collector where it is presently in secure storage. He gave his printed materials to me to help make the information publicly available to the maximum extent possible and to find a permanent home for long term preservation of the documents.


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