Charles F. Kettering Biography

(Inventor, Engineer & Businessman)

Birthday: August 29, 1876 (Virgo)

Born In: Loudonville, Ohio

Widely revered as one of greatest inventers in America, Charles F. Kettering was an electrical engineer and an industrial pioneer. He was the vice president of General Motors Research Corporation, a position which he held for a continuous 27 years. He held 186 patents, which includes the electrical starting motor and leaded gasoline. His inventions are known to have made tremendous contribution to the development of the modern day automobile industry. Some of his inventions were also employed in the fields of aviation technologies, medical research and diesel locomotives. Kettering also spent a major chunk of his life as a devoted social philosopher, farmer and a school teacher. He also invented the Freon refrigerant, which is used for the purpose of refrigeration and air-conditioning. He developed the first aerial missile in the world, ‘Bug’, which laid the foundation for future inventions of guided missiles and the like. He made innumerable contributions to National Cash Register, where he invented the first electric cash register and accounting machines. He suffered from eye problems during his school and college days, which affected his initial education.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Charles Franklin Kettering

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Olive Williams

father: Jacob Kettering

mother: Martha Hunter Kettering

children: Eugene Kettering

Inventors Business People

Died on: November 25, 1958

place of death: Dayton, Ohio

U.S. State: Ohio

Diseases & Disabilities: Visual Impairment

Founder/Co-Founder: Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco)

discoveries/inventions: Freon Refrigerant

More Facts

education: Ohio State University, The College of Wooster

awards: Hoover Medal
John Fritz Medal
Edison Medal

The ASME Medal
1936 - Franklin Medal

Childhood & Early Life
Charles F. Kettering was born in Loudonville, Ohio, U.S.A as the fourth son of Jacob Kettering and Martha Hunter Kettering.
He was a voracious reader and an inquisitive child, who always wanted to find alternative and better ways of doing things. He attended the Loudonville High School, Loudonville.
After he graduated from high school, he took up a teaching job at Bunker Hill School, where his sister, Emma was already working. The job paid for his later college expenses.
He initially attended The College of Wooster and later enrolled at The Ohio State University, from where he dropped out due to problems with eyesight. He took up a job as a foreman of a telephone line crew.
The abrupt ending of his studies due to eye problems, initially took a toll on him, making him depressed. However, he decided to utilise his electrical engineering skills practically.
After his eye problems reduced, he went back to The Ohio State University and continued his education. In 1904, he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
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In 1904, immediately after graduation he was employed at the research laboratory at the National Cash Register. During his five year tenure, he obtained 23 patents for the company.
In 1907, he was advised by his colleague, Edward A. Deeds to work on automobile improvements, stressing on the market for the same. They worked with other engineers on the project and were soon known as, ‘Barn Gang'.
In 1909, he resigned from his job at the National Cash Register and continued to work full-time on automobile improvements and developments. The ‘Barn Gang' registered themselves as Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco.
In 1911, he invented and filed a patent for the world’s first electric starter. The following year, the models for the product were approved and installed by The General Motors Company, Cadillac, for production.
In 1914, he helped in the creation of The Flxible Co. He was appointed as the president of the company and also became a member of the board of directors. Since the company was in its initial stages, he even provided funding for the same.
In 1915, he was working on an invention called the Delco-Light, which provided electric illumination to rural residents. This was one of his most widely known inventions.
In 1918, Delco was acquired by the United Motors Company. This laid the building blocks for the creation of the General Motors Research Corporation and Delco Electronics.
In 1918, he invented the aerial torpedo, also known as the Kettering Bug. This was regarded as one of the first aerial missiles, which laid the stepping stone for the first guided missiles.
In 1920, he was appointed as the vice president of General Motors Research Corporation, a position he continued to serve for the next 27 years. Over the next few years he worked on air-cooled engines for cars and trucks.
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He gave the idea for duco paint, developed diesel engines and methods to harness solar energy and ethyl gasoline. He also introduced the concept of using magnetism for medical diagnostics.
In 1927, he established the Kettering Foundation, a research foundation which encourages the process of scientific research and invention. It provides opportunities for research fellows.
By 1945, his inventions earned him a lot of wealth. After two years, he retired from General Motors. However, he continued to serve as a research adviser and director in Dayton.
Major Works
The Delco ignition system, which he invented, was one of the first electric starters. This is also referred to as the Kettering ignition system, first sold in 1910.
Awards & Achievements
In 1936, he received the Franklin Medal.
Personal Life & Legacy
He suffered from headaches during his school days, which was due to poor eyesight.
In 1905, he married Olive Williams. The couple had one child together.
In 1914, his house, 'Ridgeleigh Terrace' was constructed. It is believed that this was one of the first houses in America to have air conditioning.
In 1914, along with Colonel Edward A. Deeds he co-founded the Engineers Club of Dayton, which was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
He died at the age of 82 in Dayton, Ohio. He was laid to rest at the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton.
In 1998, in his honour the GMI Engineering and Management Institute was renamed Kettering University.
His legacy continues to live with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which he helped found and the Kettering Health Network. Many schools and educational intuitions in the U.S. are named after him.
This great inventor is credited with the discovery of ‘Bug’ aerial torpedo, which is considered the world's first aerial missile.
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