Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Vermillion's Class of 2000 will graduate in a couple of days.

Many of them will continue their education here in South Dakota. Others class members will be scattered across the country, attending classes or starting jobs.

Will everybody in the Class of 2000 become successful? No one knows. Will they soon discover that the trials and tribulations of high school were fairly insignificant compared to the challenges of the real world?

I hope so.

Not that I am personally wishing that hard times befall any member of the Class of 2000. It's almost a sure guarantee, however, that one's luck will, from time to time, turn bad. That's life.

That's why education (combined with determination, ambition, energy, faith and a healthy reservoir of optimism) is so valuable. They are the tools we all need to get back on track when things aren't going right.

These not-so-deep thoughts struck me last weekend as I was cutting my grass. The somewhat mindless exercise of making ever-diminishing circles on my lawn reminded me of Stephen Foster Briggs.

Briggs developed a six-cylinder, two-cycle engine while studying engineering at South Dakota State College (which is now SDSU, my alma mater � Go Jacks!). After his graduation in 1907, he was eager to produce his engine and enter the rapidly expanding automobile industry. Bill Juneau, a coach at South Dakota State, knew of Briggs' ambition and the entrepreneurial interests of Harold Mead Stratton, a successful grain merchant who had a farm next to Juneau's farm.

Steve Briggs and Harry Stratton were introduced, and Briggs & Stratton was born.

It's easy to assume that the rest is simply history. What could beat a Briggs & Stratton engine back in the early 1900s, right? The two men's success was sealed.

Wasn't it?

Well, let's see.

The company's first product, the six-cylinder, two-cycle engine, proved too costly for quantity production as was the second product, an automobile called the Superior, which was assembled from purchased parts. Two touring cars and one roadster later, the partners were out of money and out of the automobile business.

If there ever was a time for the two men to get back on track, this was it. And they found a way. They may have been out of the automobile building business, but they weren't out of the automobile supplier industry.

On Feb. 22, 1909, Briggs had filed a patent for a gas engine igniter to replace the existing magneto ignition system in automobiles. The patent was granted Feb. 22, 1910. The gas engine igniter, which included an induction coil, interruption device and distributor in a single mechanism, gave a single sharp spark like a magneto.

By 1920, Briggs & Stratton was widely recognized as a major producer of electrical specialties, which included the switch apparatus and starting mechanisms.

Another significant boost to sales was the popularity of a product called the Motor Wheel. In 1919, Briggs & Stratton acquired the patents and manufacturing sales rights to the A.O. Smith Motor Wheel and the Flyer. The company re-engineered the device. The Motor Wheel, originally designed for use on bicycles, could easily be attached to any standard bicycle. It also provided the power for one of the first American-made motor scooters.

From its experience with the Motor Wheel, Briggs & Stratton found that a stationary version of the Wheel was a power source with many applications. A one-horsepower portable engine provided popular and compact power sources for lawn mowers, garden tractors and washing machines.

Today, Briggs & Stratton Corporation, with headquarters in Milwaukee, WI, is the world's largest manufacturer of air-cooled gasoline engines. The company is celebrating its 88th anniversary.

This weekend will be an incredibly happy time for Vermillion's graduates. I'm sure of that.

But on those days when nothing in the world seems to be going right, young people should be encouraged to imagine that they are walking barefoot on a carpet of soft, cool grass.

It's a vision that apparently worked very well for Steve Briggs and Harry Stratton.

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