Charles Kettering: The Great American Inventor and Engineer

Charles Franklin Kettering, born on August 29, 1876, in Loudonville, Ohio, was a renowned American inventor, engineer, and businessman.

Born to farmer parents, he showcased a strong interest in machines and mechanics from an early age. Charles Kettering completed his high school education and then proceeded to the Ohio State University to study electrical engineering.

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However, due to health issues, he had to leave before completing his degree. Kettering later returned to his studies and graduated from the university in 1904.

Charles Kettering Quotes

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“No one would have crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off the ship in the storm.”

Professional Career: From National Cash Register to General Motors

Kettering started his career at National Cash Register (NCR) in Dayton, Ohio, where he developed the first electric cash register. His innovative spirit and problem-solving skills gained the attention of many, and he quickly rose in the ranks at NCR.

In 1909, Kettering left NCR and co-founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, DELCO. At DELCO, he developed the electric starter, which replaced the hand crank in automobiles, an invention that was a game-changer in the automotive industry. This brought DELCO into the spotlight, and in 1918, General Motors (GM) purchased the company. Kettering was appointed Vice President of General Motors Research Corporation, a position he held until he retired in 1947.

Key Inventions and Innovations

Kettering holds 186 patents, but he is best known for inventing the electric ignition system and the self-starter for automobiles. These innovations significantly improved the usability of cars, making them more accessible to the public.

Beyond his automotive contributions, Kettering also made significant advances in the fields of diesel engineering, aviation, and even medical science. His inventions include a high-compression, one-cylinder diesel engine, a portable lighting system for rural areas, and an incubator for premature infants. His work also led to the development of “Ethyl” gasoline and the first practical colored paints for mass-produced automobiles.

Contributions to Medical Science and Education

Charles Kettering wasn’t just an inventor; he was a generous philanthropist who believed in giving back to society. After his retirement, Kettering focused on medical research and education. His own experiences with health challenges had made him acutely aware of the need for advancements in medical technology and practices.

In 1945, he founded the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York City, alongside Alfred P. Sloan. He also started the Kettering Foundation, a research organization focused on democracy and education. Kettering’s contributions to medical research and education have saved countless lives and continue to impact society today.


Charles Kettering passed away on November 24, 1958, but his legacy as an inventive genius and dedicated philanthropist continues to this day. His inventions transformed the automotive industry and his philanthropic efforts continue to benefit medical research and education. In honor of his contributions, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the most respected cancer treatment and research institutions worldwide, carries his name.

Charles Kettering was a man who used his inventive genius for the benefit of mankind, demonstrating that the power of innovation can truly change the world. His life continues to inspire inventors, engineers, and philanthropists worldwide.

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