Charles Kettering Biography (1876-1958)


Charles Franklin Kettering was born in Loudonville, Ohio, on August 29, 1876.In 1904, after a few years spent away from school working as a teacher and another absence from college due to his poor eyesight, Kettering graduated from Ohio State University with degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering. Upon graduation Kettering went to work for the National Cash RegisterCompany (NCR) in Dayton, Ohio, where he invented the first electric cash register.

While at NCR Kettering worked nights developing a better ignition system forautomobiles. His system was so promising that he left NCR to form his own company with Edward A. Deeds, called the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco, as the company was soon called. It was here that Kettering developed the electric self-starter for automobiles as part of a comprehensive electrical system for automobiles that also included improvements in the ignitionand lighting systems. These systems were first used in Cadillac cars in 1912. During this period Kettering also developed a small self-contained electricgenerator that revolutionized life in areas not served by electric utility power lines.

In 1916 Kettering and his associates sold Delco to the United Motor Company (which later became part of General Motors). After years of professional experience in a variety of areas, including serving as vice-president of the Dayton-Wright Aeroplane Company, Kettering agreed to transfer his interests to General Motors. He later became vice-president in charge of research, and was eventually made a director of the company. While employed at General Motors, Kettering spearheaded innovations and made significant contributions to dozensof technological advances, including tetraethyl, or leaded gasoline to eliminate engine knock, quick-drying lacquer finishes for cars, four-wheel brakes,safety glass, high pressure lubricants, and high-compression automobile engine. Kettering collaborated with Thomas Midgley, Jr., in the development of Freon, the gas recently used in refrigeration and air-conditioning units throughout the world. (Its manufacture has been prohibited since 1986 because Freoncontains chlorofluorocarbons, which are linked to destruction of the Earth'sozone layer.) Kettering was also instrumental in refining the engine inventedby Rudolf Diesel. These improvements led to the eventual abandonment of steam engines for railroad locomotion and the widespread use of diesel power on railroads and in trucks and buses.

Kettering was more than just an inventive engineer. Through his Charles F. Kettering Foundation and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, heencouraged and took an active interest in various fields of medical and scientific research. He served as president of both the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was chairman of the National Inventors' Council and the National Patent Planning Commission. He also served on the boards of several universities and was a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. Kettering received more than thirty honorary degrees from universities and colleges all over the world. A much sought-after public speaker, Kettering gave hundreds of addresses and radio broadcasts. In recognition of his stature as a practical philosopher, he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, an organization founded over two hundred years ago by Benjamin Franklin. Charles Franklin Kettering died on November 25, 1958, and is buried in Dayton, Ohio.

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