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Charles F. Kettering

Charles Franklin Kettering was born August 29, 1876, on a farm near Loudonville, Ohio, to Jacob and Martha Hunter Kettering. He graduated from Ohio State University in 1904 with a degree in electrical engineering. In 1905, Kettering married Olive Williams of Ashland, Ohio, with whom he had one son, Eugene Williams Kettering.

After college, Kettering worked as an experimental engineer for the National Cash Register Company where he developed the first electric cash register. He then went to work in the automobile industry, co-founding the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco. Delco was eventually sold to General Motors, where it became the foundation for the General Motors Research Corporation and Delco Electronics. In 1920, Kettering was named vice president of the research corporation, a position he held for the next 27 years.

Kettering was instrumental in the evolution of the modern automobile, but he also revolutionized the motive power of railroads, permanently changing the way they look and operate. At the 1933 World’s Fair, Kettering’s new diesel engine captured the eye of CB&Q President Ralph Budd who was looking for a sleek, modern engine to power the Zephyr. The Zephyr was such a success that the Union Pacific Railroad contracted Electro-Motive for its own streamlined passenger train, the diesel-powered M-10001.

Diesel engines gradually eclipsed those powered by steam as the manufacturing and operational efficiencies of the former made them cheaper to own and operate. By the mid-1950s, series production of diesel locomotives had begun in many countries and the diesel locomotive was on its way to becoming the dominant locomotive power. The Electro-Motive series of corporations, including its incarnation as a GM division, became a principal builder of locomotives.

Kettering retired from General Motors in 1947 and died on November 25, 1958. At the time of his death, he held more than 140 patents and possessed honorary doctorates from nearly 30 universities.

For more information, visit:, "Charles F. Kettering"

Encyclopedia of World Biographies, "Charles F. Kettering Biography"

American National Biography Online, "Charles Franklin Kettering"

Internet Archive, WayBack Machine, "Charles Kettering: Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time"

Engineering and Technology History Wiki, "Charles Kettering", "Charles F. Kettering, inventor of electric self-starter, is born"

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