Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charles Kettering

Every time you start your car or have a purchase rung up at a cash register, you can thank inventor and businessman Charles Kettering (1876–1958) for making your life easier and better.

Kettering finished a degree in electrical engineering and took his first job at National Cash Register company. Experts at the time claimed that an electric cash register would be impossible because the motor would have to generate one horsepower and that it would burn out quickly from starting and stopping repeatedly. Slow hand-crank registers were the norm, but Kettering believed he could do better. By combining principles of springs from wrist watches and after designing a clutched motor, Kettering made it possible to produce a cheap and reliable electric cash register, thereby revolutionizing retail sales around the world.

After founding Delco (the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company), Kettering developed the electric ignition and self-starter system, which he later took to General Motors. The ease of ignition literally opened the automobile market to a far wider market, including women—the hand crank starters could be difficult even for a strong man to use, and many had broken a wrist trying to start their engines.

Kettering later served as a vice president at General Motors and founded the General Motors Research lab, leading to better fuels, engines, spark plugs, automatic transmission, four-wheel brakes, and better paints for cars, as well as refrigerators with ice-makers and train engines.

PBS American Experience profile
Wikipedia profile


ann said...

I love he made driving accessible for women. The free market caused a movement forward for gender equality! It's another case of making yourself better off by making others better off; I love the invisible hand!

Mrs. Reed said...

His name is still big in Dayton, Ohio. The Sloan-Kettering Medical Center is named for him, as well as the city of Kettering, OH, which is a suburb of Dayton.