Charles Kettering was an American engineer and inventor. He developed such varied industrial products as automobile self-starters, farm lighting sets, Ethyl gasoline, quick-drying lacquer, a two-cycle diesel engine for trains, and a high-compression automobile engine.
1876 – 1958
Kettering was born in Ashland County, Ohio, and educated at Wooster College and Ohio State University.
Bad eyesight slowed his education, but he graduated from Ohio State University with an electrical engineering degree in 1904.
His first inventive position was with the National Cash Register Company (now NCR Corporation) in Dayton, Ohio in 1904 as an electrical designer. He invented several accounting machines.
In 1908 organized the Dayton Engineering Laboratories for which he developed and manufactured lighting and ignition systems for automobiles and a self-starting system.
The resulting invention, the self-starter, made it possible for him to organize the Charles F. Kettering Laboratories. The organization was made part of the General Motors Corporation in 1916.
His inventions were marketed under the proprietry name “Delco”; a lighting and power system, based on a generator driven by an internal-combustion engine, and developed in 1914 for use in isolated communities, was called the Delco Farm Light System. Kettering’s studies of antiknock fuels resulted in the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline.
From 1917 until 1947 he was vice-president and general manager of the General Motors Research Corporation, also serving as vice-president of the General Motors Corporation from 1920 to 1947. In 1947, he resigned to be research consultant for General Motors.
He was co-sponsor of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research founded in 1948.
Other patents included a portable lighting system, Freon, a World War I “aerial torpedo,” a treatment for venereal disease, and an incubator for premature infants. Kettering held more than 300 U.S. patents.
During World War II, Kettering was a military adviser, and also served as chairman of the National Inventors Council.