Charles Francis Kettering, an engineer, inventor and longtime head of research and development at General Motors lived in the 19th and 20th centuries. This man molded the world we live in arguably more than any other and the kicker is that almost no one knows who he is!
The scale of his impact is undeniable as inventions that Kettering is credited for secured the success of the automobile in America including the battery and electric ignition system. As we all know how impactful the car has been in shaping the country and world we live in it is important to understand that Kettering made accessibility to the automobile possible for everyone, especially women and the elderly.
We can even go as far as to say that the widespread market dominance of the American car industry has Charles to thank for a great deal of its success.
Although he is most well known for his inventions that shaped the modern automobile, including the electric starter and automatic transmission, he also made contributions to both medicine and science. His interests included the growth and energy synthesis of plants, as well as various mechanical workings within the automotive industry and beyond.
He has been revered as a god in the automotive industry by other industry professionals of his time and was awarded a plethora of honorary degrees from institutions such as Harvard, Columbia and Northwestern University. Over 28 institutions to be exact awarded doctorates to Kettering for his lifelong accomplishments and in his lifetime he secured and held over 185 patents.
Above all else, Charles was widely successful in finding solutions to the problems he set out to fix. Finally, in all things, it is said that he was never afraid of hard work or attacking projects head-on. This, of course, contributed to his mounting successes throughout his eighty-two-year lifespan.
A Bright Young Mind Begins Making His Way In The World
Charles was born August 29, 1876, to Jacob and Martha Hunter Kettering. Their family lived on a corn farm just outside of Loudonville in North Central Ohio. Charles was the fourth of five children born to Jacob and Martha and he along with his siblings spent their youth as farmhands to their parent’s business.
Extraordinary, even as a boy Charles, had an incredible curiosity for all things and especially those mechanical and biological. It is said that at the tender age of eight years old Charles took apart his mother’s brand new sewing machine just to see the interior workings of the machine before putting it back together in perfect working order. His interest in mechanics no doubt paved the way for his incredible achievements in the automotive industry and beyond.
He was also especially interested in the biological wonders of plants. Growing up on a corn farm there was no shortage of specimens for study. It amazed Charles that a tiny grain planted at the beginning of a growing season could become an enormous stalk weighing more than 3000 times its original weight.
It also amazed Kettering that plants could transform the sun’s rays into energy. The energy that was measurable as these plants became fuel. Charles dreamed that one day he could make fuel directly from the sun without plants as a middleman. He unfortunately never achieved this goal.
Charles attended a small district school near the family’s farm. He then attended Loudonville High School. He was always an excellent student who loved to read. He was a voracious learner and devoured teaching on everything from biology to mathematics and history.
After he graduated from high school, Charles went on to teach at Bunker Hill School, a one-room schoolhouse where his sister, Emma, was a colleague. It is said that Charles was an incredible teacher characterized by strong engagement within the classroom. He found innovative methods of teaching gravity, electricity, heat, and magnetism and often times was joined by groups of his students after hours to take part in experiments in these fields.
Though Charles appreciated his early career as an educator, he was fascinated by electricity. It is reported that he spent his first paycheck from the school on a telephone which had a hand crank. He took apart the phone and put it back together much to the same degree of perfection as he had with his mother’s sewing machine.
From this point, he decided to further pursue an education and career in electrical engineering. He taught for one year before leaving to pursue this passion at college.
Education Is What Makes The Man
In the face of his modest background, Charles was able to use wages from teaching as well as other odd jobs he had taken on as a youth to pay for his schooling. Charles began his college education at the College of Wooster, a small college just outside of his hometown (about a 30-minute drive with today’s roads and vehicles).
After a brief summer studying classical language, he decided that pursuing an electrical engineering degree at Ohio State university suited him better than his current major at the College of Wooster. So at the age of 22, he transferred to Ohio State University at the south end of the state and much further from home.
This is more impressive when you keep in mind that cars had barely been invented at the end of the 1800s. It is likely that Kettering took some form of horse transit across the state although there is no documentation as to which line.
After completing his first year at Ohio State, Charles was forced to withdraw himself for a medical condition. Charles suffered from eye issues from a very young age which grew especially troublesome during his early twenties.
His time spent studying, before he found proper eyewear for his condition, caused him to have blinding headaches which made learning near impossible. A lesser man may have given up on traditional education. Charles was however dedicated to the idea of becoming an electrical engineer. He took several years off of pursuing his degrees to work out his medical ailments all the while frolicking in his passion for teaching at a grade school in Mifflin, Ohio.
He returned to school and again was forced to postpone his degree due to his eyesight. This time he bided his time working for Star Telephone Company in Ashland, Ohio as a telephone lineman. It is said while he worked stringing up wiring and digging holes he learned to swear but also honed his abilities as an innovator and problem solver.
Despite being forced to stop his education twice due to his medical issues, Charles found his resolve to complete his education. He later returned, with proper glasses, to complete his degree at Ohio State University. He was abetted in his academic success by roommates, who would read Kettering his lessons, as well as being granted the ability to forgo certain classes.
During his time at Ohio State, Charles was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity and pursued degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering. Electricity in the industry was a brand new technology at this time which was reforming the products on the market as well as how they were being produced. He graduated in 1904 at the age of 27 years old and immediately went into the workforce as he was recruited while finishing up his degree.
Early Career at the National Cash Register Company
Charles’ first job after he graduated from college was with the national cash register company. He was recruited by the company’s president Edward Deeds and started working a few days after his graduation. During his five years with the company, he created several products that were huge innovations for the retail and finance industries at the time.
The most famous of these inventions were brought about in 1906, the world’s first electronic cash register which did away with the crank process. This invention streamlined the ringing up of sales making the job of sales clerks far more efficient. This saved companies immense sums of money in their labor budgets.
Kettering also invented the accounting machine for the banking industry, a low-cost printing cash register, and a system that tied charge phones to cash registers. Needless to say, his innovative mind was quickly noticed and he was promoted to head of research and development where he also developed a one-step credit approval process for retailers, a predecessor to credit cards today.
Kettering worked for NCR until 1909 and in his years with the company secured 23 patents for them. During his time at the National Cash Register company, he is credited for four minor and four major contributions, but more importantly, he acquired the discipline and competence needed to succeed in the quickly advancing technology development field.
The other asset Kettering developed while with NCR was a friendship with like-minded individuals. Specifically his two very close friends Edward Deeds and Earl Howard. Edward Deeds was initially Charles’ boss who became a business partner and colleague. He played a mentor and partner role to Kettering, and the two would go on to shape industries together. Earl Howard was Deed’s assistant at NCR and later went on to work at Cadillac a relationship that would network into the business deal that jump-started Kettering’s success.
The “Barn Gang” Is Born
Beginning in 1907, Kettering and fellow NCR engineer Edward Andrew Deeds began tinkering around on nights and weekends trying to make ideas into liveable products. Soon several other coworkers from the company joined as well, and they required more space.
Eventually, they moved their developments to the barn in Deed’s back yard. They affectionately named themselves the barn gang a nickname that stuck. Fascinated with the workings of the newly invented American automobile, they set out to make improvements in their after-hours barn sessions. For Kettering, this time spent behind Deed’s house was sacred and became more of a passion than his day job at the National Cash Register Company.
In 1908 Deeds purchased a kit car for the group to work on. The electrical workings of early automobiles were extremely primitive and unreliable which to Kettering and the rest of the Barn Gang was nothing more than the opportunity for improvement. To combat poor ignition systems, Kettering invented a high energy spark ignition. The invention worked so well compared to what was currently on the market that they decided to continue to work on the concept.
Within two years this group of engineers had made substantial ground on the invention of the automobile battery ignition system. Thus, in late 1909 Kettering resigned from the national cash register company and founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company better known as DELCO. Though Deeds maintained his position at NCR he was very much a part of Delco and served as an advisor to Kettering at this time.
Delco set out with one major goal in mind: to further improve the electrical workings of the automobile in the rapidly expanding American car industry. In the earliest automobiles, the starting process involved a hand crank located at the front of the vehicle. An individual would turn a handle to quite literally “crank” the car until the engine began to run on its own.
The process was not only physically laborious, time-consuming and unreliable, it was also incredibly dangerous. Occasionally and inevitably, the crank starter of early cars would kickback and with enough force to break the bones of whoever found themselves unlucky enough to have been starting the vehicle.
After a hand crank accident which led to the fatality of Bryan Carter, founder of Cartercar and a pioneer in the early automobile industry, car manufacturers made more of a priority in finding an alternative to the hand crank system.
The story goes that while driving across the bridge to Belle Isle, which crosses the Detroit River, Carter came across a woman who was having car trouble. Hand crank starters in the early 20th century required immense upper body strength which many women struggled to muster. This was obviously before women discovered CrossFit.
Valiantly, Carter offered to crank the engine for the stranded woman. While attempting to start the car the engine kicked back forcing the handle of the crank into Bryan’s jaw, which fractured. He was taken to the local hospital and treated for the broken bones, but the wound became infected, and when sepsis set in he died. Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished.
It was a huge loss to friends, family, and the American car industry. Specifically, Henry M. Leland, the initial inventor of Cadillac, who had sold the company to General Motors but remained in charge at the time, took a particular interest in finding a solution to the dangerous starting process of vehicles after the tragic mishap.
Leland was a close friend of Bryan Carter and felt a particular fault in the accident that led to his death. This was partially due to the fact that the car’s kickback caused the untimely death of his friend and colleague, was, in fact, his own brand, Cadillac.
Henry Leland, who was an engineer and inventor himself set out to develop an electric starter. After the overall failure of he and his team of engineers, he approached Charles Kettering and DELCO for help finding a safer alternative to the standard hand crank of early 1900 vehicles. By February of 1911, the engineers at Delco had developed a reliable (for the time) version of the electric starter and ignition system that had originally been installed in Deed’s kit car.
“Battery Ignition System”
There were three components to what they called the battery ignition system. All are still widely used in today’s vehicles, with some minor and major improvements of course. What an accomplishment it was, not many inventions have found relevance throughout the last 110 years.
The first component was the electric starter, next in the system was the lighting segment and finally the unit of the mechanism which produced a spark. Together the combination replaced magneto and became known as the battery ignition system.
The battery ignition system was implemented in Cadillac vehicles in 1912 and was wildly successful. Delco was granted a three year patent for the invention. This patent is debated to have more social influence than any other. The reasoning here is that it allowed women to drive independently. Having a vehicle that they could start themselves allowed for more independence and freedom for women in the roaring twenties which contributed to suffrage efforts.
With women wanting their own vehicles now as well as the obvious added convenience for all drivers the battery ignition system granted more demand than their production capabilities could handle. Soon to Kettering’s dismay, even his beloved laboratory became a manufacturing facility.
It wasn’t long before the company had launched new locations for assembly of their hit invention and Kettering was able to renew his research and set forth on the path of solving his newest curiosity.
Soon after Charles and his team of engineers had developed a self-sustaining light source that became marketed specifically toward farms for locations that electrical wiring could not be run. It was a small combustible engine and auxiliary equipment. Groundbreaking for its time and replacing the oil-burning lamps that had previously been used.
By 1915 Delco had grown so large and financially successful that Deeds resigned from the National Cash Register company in order to dedicate more time to it.
Later Career at General Motors and Beyond
Charles Kettering was a man who liked to have his hands on many different projects at once so as we discuss his later career paths and projects there will be overlap.
In 1916 Delco exchanged hands and was purchased by the United Motor corporation, both Kettering and Deeds stayed on as head of operations. The founder and then president of General Motors, William “Billy” Durrant, was so impressed with the success of the battery ignition system including the electric starter in the 1912 Cadillac (and to be honest so was everyone else) that he decided to purchase the company, and the rest of United Motor Corporation soon after regaining control of General Motors in 1919.
The investment in Delco by General Motors was meant to further the innovations generated by their research and design department.
Flexible Sidecar Company
During the late teen years and early twenties in the 1900s, Kettering found a new venture. While continuing to work for General Motors, Charles helped fund and incorporate Flexible Sidecar Company. The company was best known for its products: motorcycle sidecars and busses.
Kettering became president of the company shortly thereafter and it too was rolled into General Motors as a subsidiary in 1921.
Somewhat off-topic but worth mentioning as an impact during this time, Charles is credited with inspiring the creation of the Flint Institute of Technology, a trade school for current and future factory workers in the automotive industry. This inspiration came in 1916 by way of a speech given by Kettering in Flint, Michigan at the local YMCA. The concept of the school centered around hands-on learning and gained through work in laboratories and cooperative programs.
World War I and the Automotive Industry
In compliance with war efforts and pre-war precautionary research, many motor manufacturers were charged with the task of developing military technology and equipment
As another of Charles’s interests took off, another innovation company was born, the Dayton Wright Airplane Corporation. In 1914 while operating as vice president there, Charles invented the first aerial self-guided torpedo, a precursor of today’s airstrike drones. The aircraft was over 30 feet long and had a range of up to 60 miles. The 37 horsepower engine could carry up to 180 pounds of explosives at a max speed of 115 miles per hour.
The aircraft was never put into effect by the United States in World War I which spanned 1914-1918. The research was however invested in by the army after Germany sunk several merchant ships belonging to the United States in April of 1917. These ships were bringing supplies to the allies and after these attacks (as well as the political pressure from Germany to Mexico to join their war efforts and attack the United States) Woodrow Wilson gave up its efforts as a neutral party and declared war on Germany.
When the United States of America entered the war Kettering’s newest invention was put to further sampling and testing. The pilotless plane was a single prop biplane and was cheaply constructed from a wooden frame which was then covered with a type of pasteboard. The torpedo also featured a highly explosive warhead as well as automatic controls. They called the missile the Liberty Eagle but it was affectionately referred to as the Kettering bug by many who knew Charles professionally and thus the nickname stuck.
The army ordered 25 samples of the Kettering Bug in January of 1918 just nine months after the United States declared war.
Overall, though the idea of the Liberty Eagle was revolutionary, the aircraft itself was highly unreliable. The first testing of the bug by the army failed. The second, though far more successful, flew around in circles instead of its intended straight-line path.
The army continued testing the Kettering bug after the end of the war, but its successes were far too limited to continue to fund the project. Eventually, the army terminated all further research efforts of Kettering’s product. Out of its 24 test runs, only 7 were shown to have any sort of success at all.
Though the design and manufacturing of the bug overall can be considered a failure, the sheer innovation behind the idea of a remote flying plane and missile makes the Kettering bug one of Charles’ most celebrated inventions.
The army continued their testing of unmanned aircraft outside of the Dayton Wright Airplane Corporations products into the 1920s and beyond, improving on the key components of the engine and automatic pilots which failed in the Kettering Bug.
In addition to the precursor of today’s drones, the Dayton Wright Airplane Corporation also gave us retractable landing gear which was the first of its kind in this day and age.
General Motors: Innovation After Innovation
In 1919 when General Motors purchased the United Motor Company, previously known as Delco, Kettering stayed on as the vice president of the company which became the department of research and design for General Motors.
While the sale of Delco made Kettering a millionaire, it brought the duo of Charles Kettering and Alfred Pritchard Sloan together. Sloan was the president of another addition to the United Motor Company, Hyatt Roller Bearings. Collectively this duo would go on to do great things together in the automobile and motor industries and as philanthropists later in their lives.
Around this time General Motors requested Kettering to head a new facility, a research laboratory in Detroit. He agreed to transfer the pursuit of knowledge of his various interests under one roof with one stipulation. He requested for the new headquarters to be located close to his home in Dayton, Ohio. Durrant agreed and the incredible innovations created by the duo of Alfred Sloan and Charles Kettering began to churn out unbelievable new technologies.
Kettering was eventually promoted to vice president and then to director of General Motors. Charles had a lengthy later career with the company spanning from 1919-1947. Even more lengthy than his years with the company were his list of inventions and patents that Charles secured for General Motors with the help of his colleagues.
From about 1920 on Charles was the driving force behind the extensive technological advancements of General Motors and the subsidiaries it acquired during his time with the company.
We cannot fully credit Charles with a number of impactful inventions that came from General Motors at the time however not many large organizations can give credit to one person in the way that is owed to Kettering by GM. Below is a composition of patents secured by the corporation while the research efforts were being headed by Charles Kettering.
- TetraEthyl lead (more commonly known as Ethyl gasoline)
- Freon (a nontoxic refrigerant)
- Quick-drying lacquer finishes (for painting vehicles)
- Durex bearings
- Short -cycle malleable iron
- Harmonic balancer
- 4-wheel drive brakes
- Crankcase ventilation
- Winter lubricating oils for engines
- Extraction of bromine from ocean water
- Engine oil coolers
- Two-way shock absorbers
- Static and dynamic balancing machines
- Improvements to chromium plating
- Rubber bushings for spring shackles
- Safety glass
- Fixed focus headlamps
- High-pressure lubricants
- Intake and exhaust silencers
- Double glass windows
- Injection system for diesel engines
- Variable speed automatic transmission
- Permanent- mold centrifugally cast brake drums
- Two-cycle diesel engines (important because they displaced steam)
- Combustion chamber development
- DC amplifier
- 12 to 1 high compression engine
In 1921, with the help of his assistant, Thomas Midgely, Jr he invented leaded gasoline which was widely used until after his death in the 1970s. When Dayton Metal products merged with General Motors they aimed to achieve two goals.
The first, an issue with the high compression engines of the time. As the auto-ignition fuel is compressed past its ignition temperature it does not burn evenly. This uneven burning will cause what is called engine knocking. They were driven by the belief that oil would be less available in the future. Kettering figured that additives to fuel could help with the efficiencies of engines. Turns out he was right.
In 1933 Kettering was featured on the cover of Times magazine with the cover story on innovation in the automobile industry titled Business: all change!
Kettering retired from the research division of General Motors in 1947 but did stay on for over ten years as a consultant to the engineers and management staff until his death in 1958.
In the year 1905, while still working at the National Cash Register Company, Charles married Olivia Williams who was from Asheville, Ohio. They had one child together, a boy they named Eugene, was born April 20, 1908. Following in his father’s footsteps Eugene went on to work for Winton Engines, another large automotive parts manufacturer which is credited with producing the first diesel engine.
Charles and Olivia built a house together in 1914 in Kettering, Ohio. The house was named “Ridgeleigh Terrace” but has also been referred to as the Tudor Revival House. Not to the surprise of anyone who has heard of Charles, it is reported to be the first in the United States of America to have working electric air conditioning. It became the home of Eugene and his wife Victoria where they raised a family. Even after Eugene’s passing Victoria continued to live in and redecorate the home until her own death. It is now a historical landmark.
Charles Kettering’s inventions spanned across many diverse fields. Listing the greatest achievements of a life so saturated with notable accomplishments is a feat in and of itself. He had over 185 patents by the time of his passing in November of 1958. Here is a list of Charles’s top impactful inventions.
The Electric Starter
We have talked previously about the invention that undoubtedly shaped the modern automobile. The electric starter was first invented by the barn gang but is credited to Kettering who was the brain behind the invention. It was first seen in 1912 in the car produced by Buick and it was deemed “the car without a crank”.
The Automatic Transmission
Though Charles is not fully credited for this invention, it was created under his supervision and management. It is important to note that GM’s automatic transmission was not the first to be invented, however, it was the first to work reliably. They called this product The Hydra-Matic and it was advertised as “the greatest advancement in the automotive industry since the self-starter”.
Leaded fuel oil with the addition of “tetraethyl lead “ at a dilution of 1000 to 1 was first tested by Kettering and his assistants in their search to prevent engine knocking. It worked beautifully for this purpose, increasing the octane. Octanes are levels assigned to fuel describing their compressibility. Higher octane fuels can be compressed to higher pressure levels without igniting than lower octane fuels.
Nicknamed the “Kettering Bug” Charles is also credited for the invention of the first aerial missile which he invented in 1918. The aircraft was made of papier-mache and had a twelve-foot wingspan. Powered by a 40 horsepower engine with a single front-facing prop the aircraft was capable of carrying up to 300lbs of explosives. It was the first of its kind and paved the way for the radio-controlled drones we have today.
The Electric Cash Register
Invented in his time working for the National Cash Register Company, Charles made the electric cash register a reality in 1906. This technology revolutionized the retail industry allowing ease of convenience for store clerks while ringing up purchases. Prior to the electric cash register were crank-style registers which ran on power generated by the manual labor of the cashier
In the 1920s Kettering headed a research effort to replace the dangerous refrigerant chemicals being used at the time. Kettering invented and patented a refrigerating apparatus designed to utilize nontoxic freon safely. This patent was issued under the company Frigidaire which is another subsidiary of General Motors.
Quick Drying Lacquers
The painting process of automobiles was taking an exceptionally long time in the manufacturing process and was slowing overall production. It was a relatively expensive division of the manufacturing line for General Motors. With these problems in mind Kettering set out to find a solution
Kettering Proves Industry Leaders Wrong, Again.
This was an incredible accomplishment that leading professionals in the industry claimed could not be done. While most salt lakes contain no bromine, the oceans do contain the chemical. However, this is in very small quantities. There are 65 parts per million of Bromine in seawater. Kettering found a way to extract this component efficiently.
As with many talented and successful inventors, Charles Kettering had his fair share of failures. He dabbled with homeopathic medicine which was expensive and churned little to no progress in the field.
He also spent the better part of four years struggling while attempting to create a successful copper cooled engine before Alfred Sloan eventually canceled the project.
He believed a four-passenger plane could be developed and produced cheaply enough for air travel to be a convenience for the average American in the same way that cars have saturated our lives. As you know, this never happened.
Though Kettering is credited with the prototype for aerial missiles, his innovations in military technology tended to be foreshadowing of modern inventions to come. Other examples of great ideas that became realities after his passing but were largely unsuccessful at the time include infrared radiation and the restructuring of synthetic materials.
Overall struggles are just part of the inventor’s process. To find success in the field you must be willing to risk mockery as well as bankruptcy both of which Charles experienced in his lifetime. He proved that in order to find success you must also face failure and embrace and learn from it.
Charles was a philanthropist who donated not only money but time, to both of the research foundations he funded.
In 1927 the C. F. Kettering Foundation for the study of Chlorophyll and Photosynthesis was started at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The foundation was powered by two physicists (Knoll and Alberts), two plant physiologists (Inman and Eyster) as well as a chemist (Rothemund).
Kettering’s innovations also translated into the medical field. During his time with General Motors, he befriended Alfred Pritchard Sloan who became the chairman and CEO of the corporation. In collaboration with this long time friend and colleague, Kettering funded the Kettering-Sloan Institute for Cancer Research at the Memorial Cancer Center located in New York City in 1945. This was a year after Charles’ sister passed away from cancer. The following year his wife Olivia also died due to pancreatic cancer. Charles’ invention “Kettering Hypertherm” helped treat those with neurosyphilis by exposing the body to high heat.
Charles Kettering Notable Quotes
“The harder I work the luckier I get”
“We are all amateurs because we are doing things for the first time”
“An inventor fails 999 times if he succeeds once he is in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.”
“The price of progress is trouble, but I don’t think the price is too high”
“Action without intelligence is a form of insanity, but intelligence without action is the greatest form of stupidity in the world.”
“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.“
“Our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future.”
“In America, we can say what we think, and even if we can’t think, we can say it anyhow.“
“There will always be a frontier where there is an open mind and a willing hand.“
“Thinking is one thing no one has ever been able to tax”
“There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.“
“Inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.“
“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”
“One fails forward toward success.“
“People think of the inventor as a screwball, but no one ever asks the inventor what he thinks of other people.“
“My definition of an educated man is the fellow who knows the right thing to do at the time it has to be done.“
“It is not a disgrace to fail. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.“
“You cannot have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.“
“People are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.“
“There will always be a frontier where there is an open mind and a willing hand.“
“My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.“
“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.“
“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
“It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail. It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again.“
Kettering Even Managed To Leave His Imprint On Legal Doctrine
Charles argued that the patent system of the United States which allowed for short term monopolization of production of a new patented technology brought about the country’s success in dominating other countries in research and science. Our country has since lost world lead and many attribute the loss to the changes in the patent system which some argue took away inventors confidence that their hard work in developing new concepts and technologies would not be copied. This was widely argued and litigated in the 1970s.
Later Life And Death
Charles Kettering died November 25, 1958, at the age of 82 years old in Dayton, Ohio. Though his passing was tragic to those whose lives he touched, his legacy lives on through his many awards and recognitions as well as through his inventions which shaped the modern automobile and other industries he worked in.
After writing off bad debts and investments Kettering was still worth over 200 million dollars. Most of this money went into a trust for the Kettering foundation which endorses the ideal of research in the relationship between democracy and the public. Very little of his fortune was left to his friends and family members. This is unsurprising as throughout his life there were very few examples of financial generosity to individuals. Kettering preferred to invest his financial success in new research measures in the industries of automotive, biology, and medicine.
One of his greatest honors came when the General Motors Institute, a trade school centered around the development of engineers and factory workers in the United States declared that it would rename itself Kettering University in honor of one of the greatest inventors of the century.
Charles Kettering as a person
Charles was not a fantastic administrator and struggled when it came to managing others. Typically his speeches were just repeated vocalizations on the usefulness of working hard. Though he did not master managing or motivating people he was exceptionally talented at working hard himself and while accompanied by other motivated and inquisitive individuals.
Kettering was known to be a bit of an oddball who had his own way of doing almost everything, a trait common among many of the great inventors including Thomas Edison.
An environmentalist, Kettering encouraged his engineering colleagues to find an alternative for fuel and to put more effort into developing fuel-efficient engines. He even dabbled in solar power as an alternative energy resource. His fascination with solar energy stemmed from his childhood growing up on a farm. Charles was enamored with the ability of plants to transform the sun’s light into the growth and production of food.
When General Motors did not find a commercial objective in pursuing Kettering’s project of turning organic material directly into automobile fuel he funded the project himself.
Reflecting On The Extraordinary Genius Of Charles F. Kettering
Charles Kettering was an innovator and a deep thinker whose many inventions riveted various industries. We should keep in mind his opinions on failure and hard work as they are so applicable in our daily lives. Never be afraid to fail but be afraid to fail to try.
Confront your problems head-on and never waver away from hard work.