Kettering, Charles F.

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First Cash Register.jpg
This image shows a replica of the First Cash Register as made by Charles F. Kettering in Dayton, Ohio.

Charles Franklin Kettering was born on a farm near Loudonville, Ohio, on August 29, 1876. He came from a modest background but still managed to obtain a college education, graduating 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.

Kettering soon decided to leave National Cash Register and. In 1909, founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, known as Delco, with his associate Edward Deeds. Kettering was involved in a number of research projects at Delco, inventing a portable electric generator and many important automobile innovations. Kettering is credited with inventing the first electric ignition system for automobiles. This development allowed drivers to start their automobile’s engine without having to crank it. In addition, Kettering invented electric lights for automobiles that would allow drivers to drive safely at night. Kettering's successes led General Motors to purchase Delco in 1916. Kettering was hired as the head of General Motors’ new research division and became a vice president of the company in 1920. Kettering continued to develop new technology for automobiles throughout his life, including spark plugs, leaded gasoline, 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 electric 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, 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 on November 25, 1958.