History Station 2 – Kettering as an Inventor

Charles Kettering, along with Bill Chryst, Bill Anderson, and Edward Deeds – all employees of NCR – worked in Deeds’ barn on nights and weekends, to develop self-starter system for the automobile.  The group became known as the Barn Gang.  The group developed the self-starter system, and Kettering designed an engine that could be started with a key, the electric ignition system.  Prior to the key activated engine, automobiles were hand cranked and often it was difficult for women to use the crank.

In July 1909 Henry Leland of Cadillac ordered 8,000 ignition sets.  Although excited about the opportunity, the group had no plant, no equipment, no workers, and no company.  Their first decision was to name the company – the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, which was shortened to DELCO.  Not long after the creation of DELCO, Kettering resigned from NCR to devote his full time to his new company and became known as Boss Kett, a nickname that he had until his death.

In 1915, DELCO was sold to United Motors for $9 million, which was purchased by General Motors in 1916.  Kettering stayed with GM for the rest of his career, becoming the head of research laboratories in 1919 and in 1920 became Vice President of Research, a position he had until he retired in 1947.

CFKetteringSept1954Kettering possessed what he called “Intelligent ignorance,” a kind of well-informed curiosity coupled with the persistent willingness to try; this “Intelligent ignorance” led to such inventions as high-octane gasoline, the diesel locomotive, as well as Freon and fast drying paints.  Automobiles were always black, that is until Charles F. Kettering worked with DuPont engineers to create a paint able to bring color to cars.  Kettering and the DuPont team homogenized a lacquer with their existing paints, which produced a thin liquid, thin enough to spray that dried glossy and weather-resistant in minutes.

In 1928 Kettering urged one of his fuel researches to develop a safe and effective refrigerant – Freon was the result, saving General Motor’s home appliance division, Frigidaire.  Frigidaire became a household name and Charles and Olive Kettering’s home became the first air conditioned home in the country.