Charles F. Kettering

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OHS AL01161.jpg
Reproduction of a photograph depicting Charles F. Kettering with a Buick automobile, Dayton, Ohio, 1913. Kettering is credited with inventing the electric ignition and self-starter for the automobile. He was one of the founders of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, which became the Delco Products Division of General Motors.

Charles Franklin Kettering was born on a farm near Loudonville, Ohio, on August 29, 1876. He came from a poor background but still managed to obtain an education. Kettering graduated from The Ohio State University in 1904 with a degree in engineering. After obtaining his diploma, Kettering moved to Dayton, where he obtained a job at the National Cash Register Company. There, he helped to develop the first electric cash register.

Soon, Kettering decided to leave National Cash Register. In 1909, Kettering and Edward Deeds founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, known as Delco. Kettering was involved in a number of research projects at Delco, inventing a portable electric generator and some important automobile innovations. Kettering is credited with inventing the first electric ignition system for automobiles. This development allowed drivers to start the automobile engine without having to crank it. In addition, Kettering invented electric lights for automobiles that would allow drivers to use them at night. Kettering's successes led General Motors to purchase Delco in 1916. Kettering was hired as the head of General Motors's new research division and became a vice president in the company in 1920. Kettering continued to develop new technology for automobiles throughout his life, including spark plugs, leaded gasoline, the automatic transmission, and four-wheel brakes. Under his leadership, General Motors also developed diesel engines, safety glass, and the refrigerant Freon. Kettering's home was the first house in the United States to have air conditioning, through the use of Freon. Kettering retired from General Motors in 1947.

In addition to his research at General Motors, Kettering also was interested in philanthropic endeavors. In 1945, he and General Motors president Alfred Sloan established the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, which was located in New York City. Kettering received numerous honors for his contributions to technological research. He was awarded dozens of honorary doctorates and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Kettering died in November 1958.

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