Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: What now-common automotive feature was patented in 1945 by Ralph R. Teetor, who at was at the time legally blind?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you’re right.
You don’t generally consider the sight impaired and automotive innovation in the same thought. Then again, perhaps you’ve never heard of Ralph Teetor.
Born in Indiana in 1890, Ralph Teetor lost his eyesight in a knife accident at the age of five. That barely served to slow him down however, and at age twelve he made the local papers by building and driving his own automobile. That was an impressive—and obviously newsworthy—accomplishment for any young boy, it’s a phenomenal achievement for one with limited sight.
Teetor adapted to his lack of eyesight by developing a keen sense of touch that in his career would allow him to compare the quality of parts with the same accuracy as a sighted man. Taught by his father and uncles the art of metal machining, Teetor found employment in the family’s manufacturing business. The company at first made rail inspection cars, but later reorganized as Teetor-Hartley, which produced parts for the then fast-growing auto industry. That company later evolved into Perfect Circle which focused on piston ring manufacture.
That business wasn’t Teetor’s only role in the history of the automobile, however. He also was awarded a patent for what is a now-common feature on many cars and trucks.
Teetor was incredibly adept with his hands and loved to craft things with them, perhaps even more so after climbing to the presidency of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Legend has it that the unsteady driving of his patent attorney jarred Teetor, but according to his daughter, he was already trying to invent an automotive speed control during the war, when the United States had a national speed limit of 35 MPH. Teetor achieved immortality, of a sort, by inventing the prototype of a modern, driver-set cruise control. Perfect Circle called it Speedostat, but the various automakers that bought it and offered it as an option used their own trade names for it. Regardless, the sightless Hoosier inventor had transformed the long-distance highway cruise.
The entrance into the burgeoning automotive industry, the creation of a now-standard and ubiquitous feature—these are amazing achievements for any individual. The fact that Ralph Teetor realized them—and more—while having limited sight is a testament to the man.