[EAS] Charles F. Kettering

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Mar 24 18:12:34 EST 2004

Subject:   Charles F. Kettering

(from NewsScan Daily, 24 March 2004)

      "The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I 
deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it
enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of
pollution, noise and  human life, the price of that freedom may be
high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes,
may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented,
electronic society." (J. G. Ballard)

      Today's Honorary Subscriber is the American engineer and
inventor  Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958), who made major
contributions to the  development of the modern automobile. He
collaborated with the chemist Thomas Midgley in the use of tetraethyl
lead to eliminate engine knock and the application of quick drying
lacquers to automobile finishes. He also  played a part in the
discovery of Freon and in the modification of the high-speed,
two-cycle diesel engine for use in trucks, buses and railroad 
engines. In 1951 he also developed a revolutionary high-compression 
automobile engine.
      Kettering was born in 1876 into a farming family in Loudonville,
Ohio. In 1904, after graduating from Ohio State University with a
degree in electrical engineering, he began working for the National
Cash Register Company in Dayton, where he developed the first electric
cash register. He rose to chief of the inventions department before
resigning in 1909 to join with Edward A. Deeds to found the Dayton
Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco) where they went into the
business of designing automotive electrical equipment. In 1914
Kettering also founded the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, which
during World War I developed a propeller-driven guided missile with a
200-pound bomb load. Then in 1916 Delco became a subsidiary of United
Motors Corporation, later General Motors Corporation (GM). Kettering
was vice president and director of research for GM from 1920 until his
retirement in 1947.
      After his retirement Kettering continued to work on automobile 
related inventions (by the time of his death in 1958, he had acquired
over 200 patents), but he also increased his interest in philanthropy,
particularly in supporting cancer research. As early as 1927, he had
set up the Charles F. Kettering Foundation "to sponsor and carry out
scientific  research for the benefit of humanity."
      In 1945, with generous financing from the Sloan Foundation (set
up in 1934 by GM CEO Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.), Kettering was instrumental
in establishing the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research.
Located in  New York City, the institute conducts research in physical
and biological  sciences relating to cancer. It also provides graduate
instruction through  Cornell University and publishes research
progress reports. In 1960 the institute was expanded to become the
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Kettering's name and memory
was more recently honored when the  General Motors Institute located
in Flint, Michigan, was renamed Kettering  University on January 1,

for a biography of Kettering by Thomas Alvin Boye -- or look for it
in your  favorite library. (We donate all revenue from our book
recommendations to  adult literacy programs.)

Kettering is also the inventor of the automotive ignition system 
where energy stored in the magnetic flux of the ignition coil is
allowed to collapse rapidly, originally by the opening of a contact,
the "points", later by a transistor equivalent. The rapid flux
collapse generates in a secondary winding the high voltage necessary
to reliably generate a spark in the plug, even through the higher
dielectric constant compressed fuel mixture.  --PJK

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list