MotorCities National Heritage Area
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2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of the Automotive Hall of Fame
Published 12.1.2021

Ralph Teetor and cruise control AHFRalph Teetor (right) and Perfect Circle President, William Prossner, looking at a cruise control unit in 1957 (Automotive Hall of Fame) 

EDITOR’S NOTE -- In honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities on Friday, December 3, we present the story of Ralph Teetor, a person with a disability who invented a feature now commonplace in vehicles today.

Ralph Teetor was an engineer and inventor who overcame blindness to develop the automotive feature we now know as cruise control, a device that foreshadowed technologies like autonomous vehicles, GPS navigation, hazard automatic braking and lane assist systems.

Born in 1890 in Hagerstown, Indiana, Teetor had normal vision until age five when his hand slipped while working with a knife and the blade penetrated his eye. This resulted in blindness in one eye, however, within a year, a condition known as sympathetic opthalmia, rendered him completely blind.

Ralph Teetor 1951 AHF 4Ralph Teetor, 1951 (Automotive Hall of Fame)

Despite his disability, Teetor developed an extremely acute sense of touch and a knack for understanding machinery working at his family’s bicycle company. At the age of 12, having been trained by his father and uncles as a machinist, he actually built an automobile of his own design that reached speeds of 25 miles per hour.

Teetor attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and earned a mechanical engineering degree in 1912. He then took a job working on a shipyard contract for U.S. Navy in Camden, New Jersey, where he developed a process for dynamically balancing steam turbines that operated under extreme heat and pressure, leading to an industry standard for maritime propulsion.

After that innovation, Teetor returned to the family business, now known as Teetor-Hartley, an early automotive supplier and provider of gasoline engines to companies like Indiana-based Auburn and Duesenberg. Later, the company elected to specialize in producing piston rings for engines. Higher quality piston rings would lead to more powerful and fuel efficient engines, and when the company’s product became the industry standard, it led to a new name – Perfect Circle. Teetor served as Perfect Circle’s lead engineer and later was appointed president of his family’s auto parts business in 1946.

Ralph Teetor patent 2Ralph Teetor's patent

Vehicles were becoming fast enough that Teetor began focusing on automobile safety. In addition, during World War II, Federal fuel conservation policies led to the adoption of a nationwide speed limit of 35 MPH. Teetor’s work resulted in an invention he dubbed the “Speedostat,” which allowed the driver to select a speed. Once that speed was achieved, a piston would push back against the gas pedal. On August 22, 1950, he received a patent for his speed control device for motor vehicles.

Speed control was a luxury amenity at first, offered as an option first by Chrysler in 1958. It proved so popular that Chrysler began to offer Speedostat on all of its models. When General Motors’ Cadillac brand adopted the device, it marketed the feature under the moniker “cruise control.”

Ralph Teetor with GM exec Ed Cole AHF 3Ralph Teetor with General Motors executive Ed Cole (Automotive Hall of Fame)

In the 1960s, cruise control was a convenient, but non-essential option for vehicles. However, the feature was more universally adopted in the 1970s when it was recognized as an effective means of fuel conservation during the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo that began in 1973.

Among his other accomplishments, Teetor served as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers, received a number of honorary degrees, and an annual award given by SAE bears his name. He died in 1982 and was inducted posthumously into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1988.

In conclusion, Ralph Teetor did not let his disability get in the way of achieving great things and left a substantial legacy in the automotive industry.

Bibliography

Donnelly, Jim. “Ralph R. Teetor.” Hemmings Classic Car, July 2009.

Sears, Daniel. “The Sightless Visionary Who Invented Cruise Control.” Smithsonian Magazine, March 8, 2018.

Ralph Teetor. Automotive Hall of Fame.

 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Davis Website
Published 11.24.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Barbara Hamilton Images
Published 11.17.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Alan Fearnley Gallery
Published 11-10-2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives, GM Media Archives, and Chrysler Archives
Published 11.3.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
Published 10.27.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of BradRacing.com and the Associated Press
Published 10.20.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of the Automotive Hall of Fame and Detroit Free Press
Published 10.13.2021

EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues through October 15, our Brian Yopp recently had a conversation with Mike Huerta, President of UAW Local 602 in Lansing. Huerta began working at the Fisher Body plant in 1997, when he first joined the UAW. Their conversation covers his career at General Motors, his interest in union leadership and the importance of his Mexican heritage.

by A. Wayne Ferens
Images Courtesy of the Wayne Ferens Collection
Published 9.29.2021

by A. Wayne Ferens
Images Courtesy of the Wayne Ferens Collection
Published 9.22.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the General Motors Media Archives
Published 9.15.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of BriggsCunningham.com
Published 9.8.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives
Published 9.1.2021

by A. Wayne Ferens
Photos Courtesy of the Wayne Ferens Collection, GM Media Archives and Ford Motor Company
Published 8.25.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives, Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 8.17.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 8.11.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 8.4.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the General Motors Media Archives and Motor Trend magazine
Published 7.28.2021

by Louise-Helene Filion
Image from YouTube/MotorCities
Published 7.21.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Automotive Sculptor and Historian Ron Konopka, Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 7.14.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the National Automobile Museum
Published 7.7.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Hot Rod Network, Jordan Lewis, Stangbumpers.com
Published 6.30.2021

By Maggy Corkery
Photos courtesy of Ralph Gilles
Published 6.23.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 6.16.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian & Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Sinclair Oil Archives
Published 6.9.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images from various sources
Published 6.2.2021

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are presenting the following except showcasing the story of some of the trailblazing Asian Americans in the auto industry.
Published 5.31.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Getty Images, Barrett Jackson and the General Motors Media Archives
Published 5.26.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
Published 5.19.2021

by Robert Tate, Automotive Historian & Researcher
Images courtesy of the Reggie Jackson Collection
Published 5.12.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Photos Courtesy of Bob Sadler/MotorCities
Published 5.5.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives
Published 4.28.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives, Shelby.com, Barrett Jackson and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 4.21.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Detroit News, Classic Car News and Classic Autos
Published 4.14.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Published 4.7.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, the Automotive Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress
Published 3.24.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Lyn St. James, RacingNation.com, and the Women’s Sports Foundation
Published 3.17.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives and the REO Truck Archives
Published 3.10.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
Published: 3.3.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of GM Media Archives, Travis Lipinski, Tom Sturm
Published 2.24.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 02.17.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from August 10, 2016.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of RoadTrack.com, Mrs. Mildred Overton, Todd Gould, Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier
Published 2.10.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Published 2.3.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from February 13, 2017. 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Studebaker National Museum/Studebaker Archives
Published 1.27.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives/Jill Reger - 1950 Oldsmobile emblem
Published 1.20.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 1.13.2021

By Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Photos Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum
Published 1.6.2021