99% Invisible: Born in 1890, young Ralph Teetor was a perpetual tinkerer. He was blinded by an accident at the age of five but didn’t like to talk about his disability growing up. His father recognized his aptitude for building things and created a workshop for him when he was just ten years old, populating it with a variety of materials and tools. Then, as a young adult (at a time when many colleges rejected his application out of hand), Teetor pushed hard to get accepted at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering.
After university, Teetor worked to dynamically balance steam turbines for U.S. Navy vessels. He was aided in part by his highly developed sense of touch — “His hands were his eyes,” recalls his biographer. Ever innovating, he also invented an early version of the powered lawn mower as well as creative locking mechanisms and other devices.
Teetor eventually returned to his hometown in Indiana, where he went to work in the family’s vehicular manufacturing and supply business — one with a long history of working on bicycles, trains and cars. Over the years, Teetor rose up through the ranks of Perfect Circle and went on to become the president of this growing company, overseeing nearly 3,000 employees. Along the way, though, he continued to work on his own designs, and had an idea that would take vehicles in a new direction.
As the story goes, Teetor was riding around one day in a car with his patent attorney, who often drove him places, when the discomfort of speeding up and slowing down gave him the idea for cruise control. MORE