“You are not handicapped so long as you can think logically.”
Nothing, not even blindness, could diminish Ralph Teetor’s passion for invention. Born in Hagerstown, Indiana, in 1890, Teetor had all the same facilities of any other child until one day, his hand slipped while working with a knife. The blade penetrated his eye and within a year, he was rendered completely blind. However, Teetor never let his condition define him. He quickly developed a highly refined sense of touch; a trait that would benefit him greatly throughout his career.
His father and uncles tutored him in machining practices and, by the age of 13, Teetor managed to build an automobile of his own design that was capable of traveling 25 mph. Later in life, he would invent a fluid-operated gearshift mechanism that he sold to Bendix Corporation. Teetor graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He would eventually join the family business, Perfect Circle Corporation, as lead engineer. Teetor helped refine and improve their designs, and his sense of touch soon became legendary around the factory. His daughter once recalled a story about him feeling some new castings and remarking that they didn’t vary by more than .002 inch. Upon measuring them, it was confirmed that he was correct. Teetor would be named president of the company in 1946. Under Teetor, Perfect Circle became one of the first automotive suppliers to market its products through motorsports as well as a major defense contractor. Teetor had also begun working on an automotive speed control device during WWII. He received a patent for his device in 1945, which was manufactured under the name “Speedostat.” The device would later become known as “Cruise Control”, and would become a standard feature in nearly all automobiles.
Teetor would later be named president of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and became a hugely influential supporter of automotive education. SAE International even named one of their most prestigious engineering awards after him. Though not many people outside the engineering community know of Teetor and his contributions, he was a significant figure in the industry that was able to see innovations that others could not.