Back to Blog
Leaders in Innovation

2024 NIHF Inductee Ralph Teetor: An Extraordinary Engineer

Each year since 1973, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® has inducted a new class of inventors who have made a significant impact on our world. Many of our Inductees have shaped our daily lives, often in ways we might now take for granted – and an important part of our mission is sharing the stories of the innovative heroes behind these influential ideas.

This year, we are honoring 15 new Inductees whose diverse accomplishments have transformed fields from communication to medicine to transportation. Read on to learn about one inspiring member of our 2024 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee class: Ralph Teetor, the inventor of cruise control.


The First Blind Engineer in America

Teetor was born in Hagerstown, Indiana, on Aug. 17, 1890. At the age of 5, one of his eyes was injured in an accident, and by the time he turned 6, he had lost sight in both eyes. Teetor never let his loss of sight keep him from pursuing his interests or building extraordinary skills. In fact, as he grew up, he developed a keen sense of touch, which would prove to be very beneficial to Teetor throughout his career.

At an exceptionally young age, Teetor began building his skills as a machinist. His father and uncles trained him at their family’s business, Perfect Circle Corp., and at just 12, Teetor designed and built a 3 hp motor car capable of reaching a speed of 12 mph. This accomplishment demonstrated not only his technical skills but also his impressive creativity.

After graduating from high school, Teetor attended the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1912.

Teetor then became the first blind engineer on record in the United States. In the role of lead engineer at Perfect Circle, Teetor helped improve the company’s designs. He became known for his excellent sense of touch as well as his outstanding memory.

He served as assistant engineer from 1919 until 1937, when he became vice president of engineering. He was appointed president in 1946. Over the course of his presidency, Perfect Circle expanded globally, selling its products in 91 countries across the world. Teetor became chairman of the company in 1957, and he served until 1963.


The Invention of Cruise Control

It was in 1936 that Teetor felt a spark of inspiration that would lead him to invent cruise control technology.

As he travelled as a passenger in a car driven by his friend and patent attorney Harry Lindsey, Teetor noticed a pattern in Lindsey’s driving. Lindsey tended to speed up or slow down depending on whether he or Teetor was speaking. So Teetor decided to try developing a technology that could address these inconsistencies in speed.

In 1948, Teetor filed his first patent for an automotive speed control device. With this technology, a speed selector on the dashboard was connected along the drive shaft to a mechanism in the engine compartment, and by holding the gas pedal steady, the device maintained the driver’s selected speed.

Teetor’s invention was trademarked as the “Speedostat” and manufactured by Perfect Circle. This technology was first introduced in Chrysler cars including the 1958 Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor luxury models. Chrysler marketed the feature under the name "Auto-Pilot." In 1959, Chrysler offered it as an option on all its models.

Ward’s Automotive Reports said in its review of the new device, “Auto-Pilot is a most remarkable invention. It vies with anything that has ever evolved through the long years of automotive history.”

In 1959, Cadillac offered the feature as “Cruise Control,” the popular name now recognized throughout the world.

Cruise control has since become a standard feature in our vehicles. It provides us with greater safety and ease in driving, as well as fuel efficiency benefits.


An Enduring Influence

Through the years, Teetor earned more than 40 U.S. patents. Not only did he continue to create and innovate, but he encouraged others to pursue education and innovation as well.

While serving as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Teetor became an influential supporter of automotive education. In recognition of his significant contributions to education, SAE International named one of its most prestigious engineering awards for him, establishing the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award in 1963.


Meet More of Our Legendary 2024 Inductees

To learn more about the new National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees whose stories will inspire generations through our events, museum exhibits and invention education programs, visit our website.

Related Articles