This is the riddle of the day: “A blind man invented this, most cars have it but you don’t use it everyday. What is it?” It may not be so much as what this particular item is as it is that a blind man invented it. Just the thought that a blind man invented something for a moving automobile is enough to give you pause. How could someone who could not see be able to invent anything with precision moving parts? Well, it turns out that they can. The inventor’s name was Ralph Teetor, a blind man from Indiana who grew up to become one of the most inspiring of automotive engineers.
Who Was Ralph Teetor?
Ralph Teetor was born in 1890. When he was five years old he was blinded in a shop accident. But this horrible fate did not deter the boy. Growing up he was inspired by Thomas Edison and developed a fascination with mechanics. When he was 12 years old, he built his own one-piston automobile with the help of his cousin. They took a discarded engine and rebuilt it by hand. The car could get up to speeds of 25 MPH and he and his cousin drove it through their hometown.
Ralph Teetor then surprised everyone by graduating in 1912 from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He even graduated within the top third of his class. The university’s staff and faculty originally did not think he was capable of making it through the program because of his disability. But in fact his sense of touch proved very adept.
The company’s manufacturing went international with the outbreak of World War II. The company played an important role in transportation for land, air, and sea for the U.S. military. Teetor started out as a mechanical engineer and worked for the family company for 30 years. He eventually worked his way up as President where he served from 1946 to 1957.
One of Teetor’s larger accomplishments was in developing a technique for balancing steam turbine rotors used in torpedo-boat destroyers. The balancing of the large rotor components had stumped other engineers before Ralph solved the problem. His advanced sense of touch had proved to be more accurate than the engineers before him.
Teetor did not like to discuss his blindness. He preferred to live a normal life as if his disability did not exist. In spite of it, he became a very successful engineer and executive. He was even a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and was elected its President of the society in 1936. Teetor served on the SAE War Engineering Board during World War II. In 1988, he was posthumously inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.
What Is He Known For?
So what is the answer to that riddle? What is Ralph Teetor best known for? Teetor is the inventor of that handy little item on your car called cruise control. It came about during World War II when the government set the national speed limit to 35 MPH to conserve gas and tires which were needed for the war. Teetor got the idea for the cruise control after riding with his lawyer one day in the lawyer’s car. When the lawyer talked, he would slow down and when he listened, he would speed up. This constant rocking motion apparently annoyed Teetor so much he decided to invent a device that would control the speed of an automobile. The device was originally known as the Speedostat, the Controlmatic, and Touchomatic. However, Teetor was never happy with any of those names so he finally settled on the name we all know: cruise control. The cruise control debuted in 1958 on the Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor models and was eventually installed on all Chrysler models.
What Else Did Teetor Invent?
Ralph Teetor also invented other engineering and mechanical items throughout his life. He was responsible for several improvements in vehicle design and even helped to develop automatic transmission. As an engineer for the Perfect Circle Company, he designed and developed an improved piston ring. Then in 1922, he patented a selective gear shift for automobiles which he later sold to the Bendix Corporation. Besides automobile improvements, Teetor’s other inventions included an early version of a powered lawn mower, several lock mechanisms, and holders for fishing rods.
The Ralph Teetor Award
As a member of the Society of Autmotive Engineers (or SAE), an awards program was named in his honor. The Ralph Teetor Award was established in 1953. It is administered by the Teetor Educational Award Committee and
its goal is to provide an engineering atmosphere where teachers can meet and exchange views with practicing engineers. The belief of the committee is that engineering educators are the most effective link between students and their future careers. The award consists of a certificate, a trip to a major SAE meeting, and two years of SAE membership. It is presented at either the Awards Ceremony during the SAE World Congress or at a major SAE aerospace meeting.