12.07-2: Webster 1938 10,000 Volt, Electric Spark, Ignition Transformer

HHCC Accession No. 2006.132HHCC Classification Code: 12.07-2

A 10,000 volt, electric spark, ignition transformers, in non-ferro-magnetic, brass case in gloss black enamel, manufactured and stencilled for Fess Oil Burners of Canada, an acknowledged early pioneer and Canadian market leader. Such high voltage devices in the home would be a source of great public mystery and often apprehension in the early years of the 20th century. But without the electric spark the mechanical wonders of the age would not have been possible, the internal combustion engine, the automobile, and automatic home heating. Webster, Circa 1938:


12.07 Pressure Atomizing Oil Burner Equipment and Systems - Ignition Devices




Webster Electric Co., Racine, Wis.



Serial No.:



8 x 6 x 5 in. h


24 lbs.




Exhibit, education, and research quality, illustrating the engineering, design and cultural styling of early high voltage ignition transformers used in Canadian homes in 1920’s and 30’s

Patent Date/Number:

From York County (York Region) Ontario, once a rich agricultural hinterlands, attracting early settlement in the last years of the 18th century. Located on the north slopes of the Oak Ridges Moraine, within 20 miles of Toronto, the County would also attract early ex-urban development, to be come a wealthy market place for the emerging household and consumer technologies of the early and mid 20th century.

This artifact was discovered in the 1950’s in the used stock of T. H. Oliver, Refrigeration and Electric Sales and Service, Aurora, Ontario, an early worker in the field of agricultural, industrial and consumer technology.

Type and Design:

10,000 volt output, 25 cycle, 110 volts, 75 watts electric ignition transformer, Non ferro-magnetic, brass case, in gloss black enamel, Chrome plated, classical cameo configured, brass nameplate, highly decorate with Fess logo, torch held high. Built in junction box Brown porcelain high tension insulators with screw terminals Concealed base mounted.

Special Features:

Original wire connector and cable stub, illustrating electrical trade practices of the times Chrome plated, classical oval, brass nameplate, highly decorate with Fess logo, torch held high.

Performance Characteristics:
Control and Regulation:
Targeted Market Segment:
Consumer Acceptance:
Market Price:
Technological Significance:

In a period of increasingly sophisticated mechanical contrivances, the development of electrical apparatus - including reliable, efficient high voltage ignition devices [transformers] and electric motors tended, for the most part, to lag well behind the mechanical mechanisms which they supported. The engineering and manufacturing challenge was to build an electrical transformer, to operate on 110 volts alternating current [the then accepted standard for hydro electrification in Canada], one that would create a sufficiently hot spark, about 8,000 to 10,000 volts, needed to reliably ignite an atomised oil vapour and air mixture. Little of a theoretical nature was known in the early years of the 20th century about the design of electrical equipment, certainly not high voltage transformers. The principles of alternating electrical circuits, as well as those of magnetic circuits were little understood, by those who must apply them. Farada’s experiments of the 1840’s and 50 had only been translated into the mathematical formula needed for precise engineering design in the 1870’s. And Steinmetz would not set out the basic parameters for the design of electromagnetic circuits until the early years of the 20th century. But the market place could not wait, engineering design proceeded empirically, with the knowledge available - with much trial and error. The cost would be in reliability and performance standards The toe crushing weight and size of these early specimens [25 lbs] is a reminder of the crude design criteria employed, and the materials available, especially the crude dielectric materials for the insulation of wire and coil bundles operating at these high potential levels. As a result electrical failure was common, with all the accompanying dangers posed by un-ignited explosive mixtures being pumped into the furnace fire box.
Of special significance is this 25 cycle specimen. Once the standard in Ontario, 25 cycle equipment was heavier and bulkier than its 60 cycle counter part. Frequency standardization in Ontario, a project of monolithic proportion, now long forgotten was a technological marvel in its own right. It occurred, largely, in the latter half of the 1940’s

Industrial Significance:

A rare marker of the early years in the Canadian, automatic oil heating industry, this ignition transformer by the acknowledged, early US leader in transformer engineering, design and manufacturer, Webster Electric, was stencilled for Fess Oil Burners of Canada, then an acknowledged early pioneer and market leader in the engineering, design and manufacture of oil burners in Canada. The suggestion here is that there were no Canadian ignition transformer manufactures in the period. By the mid 1930’s the future of the Canadian oil heat industry was assured of a long period of solid growth. With hydro electrification now well advanced in many urban areas in Canada, the desire for automatic, home heating was almost universal, and with it the pressure to engineer high voltage ignition in Canada, at reduced cost and improved reliability and performance ‘ See ID# 256 and 257.

Socio-economic Significance:
Socio-cultural Significance:

The electrically generated spark was one of the true heroes of early 20th century technology targeted for the Canadian home and garage; without it the mechanical wonders of the period would not have been possible, the automobile, as well as automatic household heating. Yet it was a period, too, in which electric devices of all types were viewed with great suspicion and held in awe, especially ones that would produce 10,000 volts and a spark an inch long, hot enough to ignite fuel vapour. Apprehension not-with-standing, by the mid 1930’s the future of the Canadian automatic oil heating industry was assured of a long period of solid growth. With hydro electrification now well advanced in many areas in Canada, the desire for automatic, home heating was almost universal. The high voltage ignition transformer would become a house hold fixture with all its inherent hazards - albeit an inconspicuous one. Of cultural significance is the attention given, in this embryonic and early development period of relatively crude technology, to matters of styling. The culturally sophisticated design idiom of the times is seen here in the classic cameo styled nameplate, beautifully decorated with simple classic symbolism, a hallmark of the period. The industry was clearly attempting to appeal to the interest and values of those in the population that could afford the latest technological offerings of the industry ‘ the best that the industry could provide for those with discerning Canadian tastes.


G. Leslie Oliver, The T. H. Oliver HVACR Collection

HHCC Storage Location:
Bibliographic References:

CMX02 and CMX04 catalogues, see item R6