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Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

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  • Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

    http://www.bangshift.com/blog/Gearhe...Kettering.html

  • #2
    Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

    Didn't he pioneer the use of tetraethyl lead to turn cheap low octane fuel into cheap high octane fuel for aircraft use in WWII? Or do I have my facts wrong?
    Tom
    Overdrive is overrated


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    • #3
      Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

      don't forget automatic transmissions , air cooled engines
      being from the new york , I know a lot of people who had their ass saved by memorial sloan kettering

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      • #4
        Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

        Brian: fantastic write-up, I'd heard of Sloan-Kettering before but never had any idea this was Mr Delco himself.

        What an incredibly accomplished man (although I was thinking, heck, maybe I could have got an ElecEng degree in 1904! lol)

        These biopics would be great bundled in a Gearhead Anthology section on the site.
        Michael from Hampton Roads

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        • #5
          Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

          Originally posted by Huskinhano
          Didn't he pioneer the use of tetraethyl lead to turn cheap low octane fuel into cheap high octane fuel for aircraft use in WWII? Or do I have my facts wrong?
          I know he did work with gasoline and is credited with inventing leaded gas, so you're right on the number.

          ML -- At some point when we have organizational prowess like that, it would be killer to have them all packaged in one place. I just jotted it down on the "wish list"

          Brian
          That which you manifest is before you.

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          • #6
            Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

            Great write up Brian. I knew he was responsible for the electric starter but had no idea about the rest. The story I heard was that a friend of his had gotten gangreen and died after having his arm broken by a crank handle.

            It would be a really good thing if you could link all the similar blog posts.

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            • #7
              Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

              Originally posted by Huskinhano
              Didn't he pioneer the use of tetraethyl lead to turn cheap low octane fuel into cheap high octane fuel for aircraft use in WWII? Or do I have my facts wrong?
              Actually, Kettering and Midgely developed TEL in the mid-20s, but it took a multi-year marketing program by GM, DuPont, and the Ethyl Corporation to sell it to the American public, already aware of the hazards of lead poisoning. They succeeded and leaded fuel was widely available at the pump by the early '30s. Before TEL compression ratios were limited to around 5:1, which made engines very inefficient.

              Until the discovery of TEL as an octane additive, both Kettering (for GM) and Henry Ford were advocates of ethyl alcohol -- ethanol -- for its high-octane properties, and actively lobbied for its adoption by the fuel industry. This is why leaded fuel was originally branded and marketed as "ethyl" -- so consumers would identify the additive with the farm-grown ethyl alcohol they were familiar and comfortable with, rather than highly toxic lead.

              TEL is a fascinating story and a textbook case for product development and marketing in America. Jamie Kitman of Automobile Magazine has written a brilliant (if somewhat politically charged) paper about it, which you can find in various places around the web.

              The unsung genius of America's WWII aviation gasoline production was a French chemist named Eugene Houdry, who invented the catalytic cracking process first used by Sun Oil Co. The process, developed just in time for America's entrance into the war, allowed refineries to take low octane stocks of perhaps 60 octane up to 80 octane or better before additives. This made 100+ octane aviation fuel in huge quantities possible, which the Germans and Japanese had no hope of matching. As much as any one person, Houdry won us the war -- another hero like Boss Kettering. The Axis was pissed enough that the Vichy government revoked his French citizenship.

              If you are into WWII aviation gasoline and similar weird topics, two terms worth googling are "triptane" and "toluene." A good part of it is folklore, however.

              Great story, Brian. Kettering is one of my heroes. How about one on Glenn Curtiss?

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              • #8
                Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                If any of you folks are planning on doing the power tour...Dayton Ohio has a Museum for Kettering. It is currently being moved to Carillon Park. This is located quite close to the University of Dayton Arena. get there early and avoid the lines!!!
                Mike in Southwest Ohio

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                • #9
                  Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                  Kettering's chief chemist and right-hand man was Thomas Midgley, who had worked at NCR with Kettering and eventually joined him at Dayton Research Laboratories, which became GM Research. He was a mechanical engineer by training but had a special gift for applied chemistry. Under Kettering, Midgley developed tetraethyl lead. He also invented Freon for GM/Frigidaire... before that, air conditioning and refrigeration employed ammonia, lithium bromide, propane, and other weird and hazardous gases. In WWII he came up with a major breakthrough in synthetic rubber.

                  Among countless other inventions, Midgley also devised the ball hydrometer -- the kind of hydrometer where you count the number of balls floating to measure battery specific gravity or antifreeze strength instead of watching a bobber. You know the "green eye" (which is actually a flourescent ball) in the top of a Delco battery? Midgley invented that 80 years ago for the Delco Light farm generator set but it wasn't adopted for car batteries by Delco until many decades later.

                  When he was over 40 Midgley suddenly contracted polio, the statistical odds of which are astronomical. Some today believe he actually developed a neurological condition due to his handling of tetraethyl lead in marketing demonstrations, in which he did everything but gargle with the stuff to "prove" it wasn't harmful. To deal with his paralysis he rigged up his home with a system of cords and pulleys so he could feed and care for himself without assistance. Unfortunately he got tangled up in the mechanism one day and was strangled to death. Brilliant and fascinating individual.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                    That's fascinating. Thanks for the background.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                      I learned about Midgley in my thermodynamics class. We were discussing TEL as well as CFC's. I really didn't know the story behind Delco or Kettering.

                      These guys contributed so much to the automotive industry and to the world with the technology they pioneered. They were given numerous tasks and then they developed the solutions which were miraculous for their times. TEL and CFC's are but two examples discussed, environmental effects aside, these products really are impressive.

                      I really appreciate all the extra info from Bill McGuire. I am very fascinated by Midgley. From what I understand he was quite a showman with all his products and inventions. Bill mentioned that Midgley ingested TEL to prove that it was safe, I heard that he was treated for lead poisoning after one incident :o. He would also inhale CFC's to prove that they were safe for humans and in fact they are (they only devour the ozone layer :). I also used to inhale CFC's on a daily basis in my asthma inhalers. The CFC's in asthma products finally got phased out last year in Canada and now inhalers only contain powdered medication.

                      It's kind of sad (and slightly funny) that Midgley died in his own device - after playing with and creating all kinds of dangerous things, then getting polio, he gets killed by his own genius. ;D

                      As an engineer, Kettering and Midgley are the kinds of guys you aspire to be (more on the level of genius and ingenuity, and less on the environmental and health side :P).

                      I'm with Brian on this one, where did all these guys go? I don't think the world is short on problems right now - where are the leaders, pioneers and true geniuses?


                      [Holy-long-post Batman! Can you tell I am interested by this week's article? Great work Brian! 8)]

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                      • #12
                        Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                        You can find some of their modern-day counterparts working on the Chevy Volt. I don't think people appreciate what an ambitious project it is. When Bob Lutz announced that the car would go into production in 2010, the battery science didn't really exist. It's a pure case of technology forcing, like when JFK announced in 1961 that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                          The Volt! Yes, that is a very good example of forward thinking. That's a project that definitely challenges both the people directly involved and society. I think you made a very important analogy to JFK and the moon landing.

                          There are most likely more technological pioneers now than ever before. There are so many different projects and goals for advancements in society and health. Like you mentioned above, technology is being developed in every different direction it's difficult to appreciate it all. Even within the realm of the automobile there is so much going on.

                          Sometimes, it just seems that a real leader is missing - the special someone (or team) that brings everything together.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                            Today corporations like GM have a deliberate policy of not promoting their technical talent. They deliberately keep their key people hidden away so other companies don't steal them and their ideas are harder to pirate. And to emphasize the collaborative nature of the work, rather than having a few PR-minded people hog the spotlight. Meanwhile the executives and communications people serve as the public mouthpieces. I have gotten GM engineers and myself in trouble by contacting engineers directly when working a story rather than going through channels (the PR people). Even when the project was not particularly sensitive.

                            This policy began to evolve even while Kettering was still around. The engineers who designed the 1949 Oldsmobile OHV V8 wanted to name it the "Kettering V8" in his honor, but the corporation enacted a policy prohibiting the naming of cars and components after GM employees. Ed Cole informally became known as the "father" of the small-block Chevy, but the guys in charge of developing the LS V8, such as Ed Koerner and Tom Stephens, have made it clear they don't want that label attached to them, emphasizing the group effort angle. John Heinricy was probably the last GM engineer who was allowed to have a public persona and he took retirement last November. Corvette chief engineers are allowed a bit of glory in the magazines and at Corvette gatherings but not as much as they used to have. Certainly not like Zora Arkus-Duntov or Dave McClelland. That sort of thing no longer fits GM's corporate mold.

                            Personally I think it's a mistake. Putting people front and center puts human faces on the corporation, draws attention to the technical accomplishments, and gives young people heroes to emulate -- so they too will become engineers and join the company. I believe that engineers who were also great public figures helped to make General Motors what it was at one time: the greatest engineering company in the world.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Gearhead Guys You Should Know: Charles Kettering

                              Didn't GMC have a "heavy-duty people" ad campaign a few years ago, featuring engineers?

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