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February 2, 1839 – Edmond Berger invents the spark plug

When the first internal combustion engines began to show up in the late 1700s, sparks began to fly, quite literally. The development of this type of engine became a primary focus for many interested in mobility and engineering. By the early 19th century, a variety of ignition systems had been developed, but hardly any found commercial success due to poor reliability issues. According to multiple, rather vague accounts, Edmond Berger, a Black man believed to be from Togo, West Africa, took a step to improve the efficiency of these engines when he invented the spark plug on this day in 1839.

A spark plug relies on electricity to pass a spark between two electrodes, which ignites a fuel mixture inside an engine to generate power. Most modern internal combustion engines rely on spark plugs to operate. Unfortunately, Berger never patented his invention, which he developed in France. Due to the early date placed on Berger’s invention and the state of internal combustion engines at the time, his device would have been both revolutionary and rudimentary, if it existed at all – as some historians point out. Some believe the date to be incorrect, but nonetheless give credit to Berger for his pioneering work in the field.

A viable spark plug didn’t come about until the early 1900s. In 1902, Gottlob Honold, an engineer working for Robert Bosch, patented the first commercially successful spark plug. His work made possible the spark-ignition systems used in automobiles since.

Modern spark plugs.

February 3, 1990 – Musician and high end car collector Sean Kingston is born

Reggae infusion artist Sean Kingston was born on this day in 1990. He rose to fame after being discovered on MySpace and releasing a few hits, including “Beautiful Girls.” His new found glory provided him the resources to collect a variety of high end cars. His passion for luxury has resulted in a multi-million dollar driveway arsenal

In spring of 2020 a video floated around the internet that supposdely showed his collection of cars being repossessed from his Jamaican mansion. However, Sean responded to the video saying he hadn’t been to that house in more than a year and was having the cars taken to a garage for service. He added that he had recently bought a new house in LA and showed off his latest automotive acquisitions. These included a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini Urus.

Outside of music and cars, Sean has other passions. He’s been a proponent for animal welfare and Do Something, a nonprofit that encourages young people to enact positive change. Sean recently announced an upcoming album with Chris Brown. Surely it will make him a few more bucks, so knows what’s next for this young car collector. Here’s a few pictures of his rides from social media.

February 1, 1901 – American poet and road tripper Langston Hughes is born

Happy Black History Month! This blog will make an effort to share Black history stories related to automotive history every day through the month of February. Some days, perhaps most, it may take a stretch to connect the two topics, but the stories and lessons shared will hopefully prove educational and entertaining nonetheless. Let’s hit the road, shall we?

Born in Missouri on this day in 1901, Langston Hughes would grow up to be a prominent poet, novelist, activist and an important social figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. What he wasn’t known for, was his driving skills, which were apparently non-existent, at least up to around 1930. Despite this, writer and cultural archivist Zora Neale Hurston had no qualms inviting Hughes to join her on an road trip of great importance.

Above: Langston Hughes. Top: Zora Neale Hurston and her Nash, “Sassy Susie”

Hughes had just jumped off the train in Mobile, Alabama after a stint in New Orleans when he had a chance encounter with Hurston that would put him back on the road. Though he had recently finished a speaking engagement, his pockets were more or less empty. His spirit remained full, and he was no stranger to life on the move. He accept the offer, joining Hurston on her mission to catalog folklore, songs and traditions of southern residence before traveling to New York. Their ride for the trip? Hurston’s trusty Nash coupe nicknamed “Sassy Susie.”

Hughes later wrote of the trip‘s origins, “Blind guitar players, conjur men, and former slaves were her quarry, small town jooks and plantation churches, her haunts. I knew it would be fun traveling with her. It was.”

Maureen Corrigan wrote in review of the book, Zora and Langston – A Story of Friendship and Betrayal, ” …driving through big cities like Montgomery, Ala., and Savannah, Ga., and on dirt roads into the countryside. They stopped at Tuskegee University, where Hughes visited the renowned scientist George Washington Carver, and raced to Macon, Ga., in time to see Bessie Smith perform. Throughout those weeks on the road, they became best friends, sharing food, money and conversations about art and race.”

After about 1,200 miles and two weeks on the road, the pair arrived in New York. All told, they spent around $50 in gas, oil, repairs and at least one $5 speeding ticket. The later being impressive, given the average speed of cars at the time clocked in around 35 miles per hour.

From the book mentioned above, by Yuval Taylor, “From the perspective of ninety years later, Zora and Langston’s Southern road trip seems a halcyon journey of bonhomie, adventure, creativity, discovery, and intellectual challenge. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for Langston, who had learned of the South primarily through books and through talking to others who had been there. What surprised him most was the happiness of its inhabitants: “Most of the Negroes seemed to be having a grand time and one couldn’t help but like them,” he wrote in his characteristically naive manner. I doubt that Zora, on the other hand, saw anything very different from what she’d already seen on her journeys. And the trip had also “worn [her] down,” as she later wrote: she only weighed 124 pounds by the end of it. For her, the grandest thing must have been cementing her friendship with Langston — and being “fed on the company of good things.

I have not read this book, but I certainly will be shortly. So while this is a stretch in terms of automotive history, let’s not forget that these two were pioneers of the road trip. The US Highway System had only just opened two years prior, and these two artists took full advantage of what the open road offered – freedom to be – freedom to go.

Langston Hughes wrote a poem that year, titled Florida Road Workers. View it here with an analysis.

I’m makin’ a road

For the cars

To fly by on.

Makin’ a road

Through the palmetto thicket

For light and civilization

To travel on.

Makin’ a road

For the rich old white men

To sweep over in their big cars

And leave me standin’ here.

Sure,

A road helps all of us!

White folks ride–

And I get to see ‘em ride.

I ain’t never seen nobody

Ride so fine before.

Hey buddy!

Look at me.

I’m makin’ a road!

If you learned something today,

please buy me a beer!




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