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A spark plug (also, very rarely nowadays, in British English: a sparking plug) is an electrical device that fits into the cylinder head of some internal combustion engines and ignites compressed fuels such as aerosol, gasoline, ethanol, and liquefied petroleum gas by means of an electric spark.

Spark plugs have an insulated central electrode which is connected by a heavily insulated wire to an ignition coil or magneto circuit on the outside, forming, with a grounded terminal on the base of the plug, a spark gap inside the cylinder. (see diagram right)

√Čtienne Lenoir already used an electric spark plug in his first internal combustion engine in 1860 and he is generally credited with the invention of the spark plug. Early patents for spark plugs included those by Nikola Tesla (in U.S. Patent 609,250 for an ignition timing system, 1898), Frederick Richard Simms (GB 24859/1898, 1898) and Robert Bosch (GB 26907/1898). But only the invention of the first commercially viable high-voltage spark plug as part of a magneto-based ignition system by Robert Bosch's engineer Gottlob Honold in 1902 made possible the development of the internal combustion engine. Subsequent manufacturing improvements can also be credited to Albert Champion,[1] the Lodge brothers, sons of Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge, who developed and manufactured their father's idea[2] and also Kenelm Lee Guinness, of the Guinness brewing family, who developed the KLG brand.

Reciprocating internal combustion engines can be divided into spark-ignition engines, which require spark plugs to initiate combustion, and compression-ignition engines (diesel engines), which compress the air and then inject diesel fuel into the heated compressed air mixture where it autoignites. Compression-ignition engines may use glow plugs to improve cold start characteristics.

Spark plugs may also be used in other applications such as furnaces where a combustible mixture should be ignited. In this case, they are sometimes referred to as flame igniters.


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