The Success Story of Charles Kettering: Inventor and Entrepreneur

On this day, August 29 in the year 1876, the businessman and inventor with 186 patents was born in Ohio, United States. His name was Charles Franklin Kettering, the founder of Delco Electronics which became a subsidiary of General Motors.

Charles Kettering
Charles Kettering (

Charles Kettering was born in a village farm. As a boy, he earned money cutting wheat. He also became a night teacher after high school. Because of poor eyesight coupled with constant headache, he dropped out of college twice. Finally in 1904, he earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Ohio State University at the age of 28. Even before he graduated, he gained experience with electronics while working with a telephone line crew.

After graduation, Charles was hired as researcher by National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio. His first output was the first cash register equipped with an electric motor. Later, he developed the “OK” charge telephone for use in public locations.

In 1909, Charles Kettering left NCR to form his own research outfit. It was called Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company which was later shortened to Delco. The company’s most popular product was an electric starting, ignition, and lighting system for automobiles. In 1916, Charles sold Delco to United Motors which was in turn acquired by General Motors in 1918. Delco then was renamed General Motors Research. In 1920, he was appointed vice-president of the renamed subsidiary.

During his 27 years with General Motors, Charles supervised the development of many products including air-cooled engine, quick drying lacquers, antiknock fuels, leaded gasoline, and improvement of the diesel engine. Beyond the automotive industry, he also helped develop a portable generator, the refrigerant Freon, an incubator for premature babies, a cure for venereal disease, and therapy for fever. Meanwhile, he gave inspiration to the establishment of Flint Institute of Technology and also the General Motors Institute which became the Kettering University in 1988.

Charles Kettering died in 1958 at the age of 82. He had an only son with his wife Olive.


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