Collecting Delco-Light Plants
The main purpose of this web site is to educate and inform the beginning Delco-Light collector. It has always been my belief that a true collector should share their knowledge with others interested in their field and be willing to help and encourage a new or inexperienced collector to get started.
Delco-Light began when Charles Kettering and Edward Deeds formed the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) in 1909 to manufacture ignition sets for Cadillac. Later, in 1916, a new company called the Domestic Engineering Company was formed for the purpose of manufacturing and selling Kettering's light plant system that had been in development at Delco as early as 1913. Later the organization came to be called The Delco-Light Company. In that same year Delco was sold to United Motors for nine million dollars. Two years later, in 1918, General Motors acquired United Motors and has kept the Delco company name to this day.
Kettering first set out to provide for his mother, who lived on the farm, the convenience electric power. He set up a gas engine and belt driven generator that charged a set of batteries and wired the home to run on 32 volts DC. However the system was not fully automatic. When the engine quit running and the batteries ran down his mother simply reverted back to using the kerosene lamps she was accustomed to. It was then that Kettering decided that a dependable and affordable means of furnishing electricity to the farm needed to be developed.
The first Delco-Light plants were produced in 1916 and generated over 2.5 million dollars in sales for Delco that first year. Many other light plant companies competed in the field but by 1920 Delco-Light reigned supreme. Then came the Great Depression. One of President Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs was the creation of the Rural Electric Administration (REA) in 1935. The purpose of the REA was to bring electricity to the rural areas of the country. In 1930 only 10% of the rural population in the United States was serviced with electric power. By the beginning of W.W. II nearly 50% of all rural residents had electricity.
During W.W. II Delco converted all production to the war effort. By the end of the war the REA had done the job of providing electric power (110 volt AC) to rural America and demand for light plants fell off drastically. The last Delco-Light plant was manufactured in 1947.
For the most part the Delco-Light legacy has been largely forgotten. Today we take electricity so much for granted we hardly ever give it a second thought. Recognition should be given to those spirited few who are preserving our heritage by keeping them running.