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Charles F. Kettering

prolific inventor

Charles Kettering

Charles Franklin Kettering was born on a farm near Loudonville, Ohio, on August 29, 1876. He grew up poor, but was still able to get an education. Despite having to drop out twice due to poor eyesight, he earned an engineering degree from Ohio State University in 1904. On August 1, 1905, he married Olive Williams, with whom he had one son (Eugene Williams).

Kettering's persistence and seemingly inherent knack for innovation while at Ohio State earned him a job with National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio, where he helped develop the electric cash register.

Always looking for problems that needed solving, Kettering decided to tackle a major issue with the automobile, having to possess a fair amount of physical strength and stamina in order to turn the manual starter. In 1909 he and Edward Deeds founded Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco), which subsequently perfected the electric automobile starter. The first automobile to feature an electric starter was introduced by Cadillac on February 17, 1911, and Kettering was granted a patent for the device on August 17, 1915. Delco was purchased by General Motors in 1916, and Kettering became head of GM's research division at that time.

Over the course of his career Kettering earned over 140 patents, both singly and as head of research at General Motors.. His automobile-related inventions included spark plugs, the automatic transmission, four-wheel brakes, shock absorbers, safety glass, leaded gasoline, and an improved diesel engine. His inventiveness was not limited to automobiles, however, as he also invented synthetic aviation fuel, quick-drying enamel paint, a treatment for veneral disease, an incubator for premature infants, and an artificial fever therapy. One of his automobile-related inventions was Freon, and Kettering's Dayton home was the first in the United States to use Freon in an air conditioning system.

Kettering used his influence, and some of the money he earned from his inventions, to help establish the Flint Institute of Technology in 1919 and the General Motors Institute in 1926. In 1945, he and General Motors president Alfred Sloan established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York City. He retired from General Motors in 1947, and died in Dayton on November 25, 1958.


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This page was last updated on 08/16/2018.