The late Henry "Dad" Garrett was a multi-talented Dallas inventor with a bent for electrical contrivances, and in 1935, he and his son, C.H. Garrett, patented and exhibited an automobile that ran on water -- actually, on hydrogen after the water was broken down by electrolysis.
Dad Garrett was already famous for his work. In 1920 he set up WRR in Dallas, the world's first municipal radio station, and was its first announcer. He was the first man to build a radio in his car, and he developed radio transmission from the car for police use. He also invented an automatic electric traffic signal, possibly the nation's first.
Eugene P. Aldredge recalled the Garretts: "I had rented a small office on the seventh floor of the Allen building in downtown Dallas for my letter service, and one of my early customers was the eighteenth floor National Electric Signal Co. owned by Dad Garrett and son C.H..
"I was informed that the two were experimenting with an automobile that used water for fuel, that they carried on their experiments in a workshop adjacent to their office on the top floor, and that two separate explosi** (from dangerous hydrogen) had nearly blown a hole in the roof of the building...Neither was hurt."
On September 8, 1935, The Dallas Morning News first announced that the water-fuel concept worked -- at least it worked for "several minutes," the article reported.
A few months later, Pathe' News filmed the car driving along Garland Road with the driver stopping at White Rock Lake to fill the fuel tank with water before cruising off. In 1970, Karen Klinefelter wrote, "Aptly enough, the film was shown on Pathe's Stranger than Fiction feature program."
C.H. Garrett said the only items needed to convert a gasoline-engine auto to a water burner was an electrolytic carburetor and installation of a generator of double normal capacity for the breaking down of the water.
He claimed instant starts in any weather, no fire hazards, cooler operation and plenty of power and speed. The car was not marketed, and no one seems to know its ultimate destiny. Both Garretts died a number of years ago.
[A.C. Greene is an author and Texas historian who lives in Salado.]
The original September 8, 1935 article that I found on microfilm in the Dallas Library.
Dallasite Patents Invention
Which He Claims Substitutes
Water for Gasoline as Fuel
C.H. Garrett, Dallas inventor, gave a *** dem**tration Saturday of a recently patented contrivance which he said substituted water for gasoline as fuel for internal combustion engines.
He said it broke up the water by electrolysis into its component gases, oxygen and hydrogen, using the highly explosive hydrogen for fuel in the motor cylinder.
The working model operated a four-cylinder engine for several minutes in the dem**tration, at varying speeds and with several starts and stops. Garrett said he had operated the engine continuously for more than forty-eight hours.
The inventor said the idea itself was not new. He explained that difficulty had been encountered heretofore in attempts to store the dangerously inflammable hydrogen. He claimed to have AVOIDED that trouble by making and exploding the gas in the SAME PROCESS without a storage chamber in which the flames from the motor cylinders might react.
Water, he explained, is broken down into its component gases by passage of an electric current through it from electrodes immersed in the water. Hydrogen collects at the negative pole and oxygen at the positive. The hydrogen, Garrett said, is MIXED WITH AIR (78% nitrogen and other gases...Vanguard) and introduced DIRECTLY INTO THE CYLINDERS.
The inventor said he had been working on the device for eight years, assisted by his father, Henry Garrett, traffic signal engineer for the city of Dallas, inventor of the traffic signal system, now in use here and holder of several patents on such contrivances.
Garrett said attachment of the electrolytic carburetor and installation of a generator of about DOUBLE normal capacity to furnish power for the breaking down of the water were the only changes needed to convert a gasoline burning automobile into a WATER BURNER!
He said the electrolysis chamber would have to VARY IN SIZE with the size of the motor used. One of ABOUT A QUART CAPACITY being big enough for the ordinary automobile.
He claimed instantaneous starting in any weather, elimination of fire hazards, cooler motor operation and fulfilling of all motor requirements in power and speed.