Dakota Datebook

Headbolt Heaters

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Today we bring you a story of a man who made life in winter a whole lot easier.

Andrew Freeman was born in 1909 and grew up in Upham, North Dakota. In 1932, he graduated from UND with a degree in electrical engineering and went on to become widely known as the visionary who managed the Minnkota Power Cooperative for forty years.

As a kid, Freeman was interested in how people started their cars in cold weather, including the town mailman.  Freeman reported that the mailman drained the oil out every night and kept it warm in the house, and put it back in the car in the morning. Other folks would shovel hot coals from their furnace and put them under the car to heat the engine. Another trick was to use teakettles to pour hot water over the intake manifold.

“We had a Model A Ford,” said Freeman. “When we wanted to start it, we would go out and fire up a stove in the garage.”

It was around 1940 that Freeman decided to find a better way. He found some copper tubing in a pile of rubble and put it together with a heating element from an old iron. In a 1979 interview, Freeman said, “I tried it out on the car one morning when it was 29 below. I made a number of trips … to check it. At a quarter to 8, I stepped on the starter, and it started right out!”

When word got out about his invention, friends and neighbors started asking for one. It was on this date in 1949 that Andy received a patent on the “Freeman Electric Internal-Combustion Engine Head Bolt Heater.” It went into production in East Grand Forks, and four years later, the factory was turning out about 240,000 units for distribution in 28 states.

Today, thanks to electronic ignitions and fuel injection, plugging in the car on cold nights is less common, but for many years Andrew Freeman’s invention was a much welcomed necessity.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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