Owen Skelton helped redefine American automobile engineering. Skelton was born in 1886 in Edgerton, Ohio. As a boy, Skelton refined his mechanical aptitude while working as an apprentice in his father’s horse equipment shop. He would later attend Ohio State University and graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Skelton began his automotive career by joining the Pope-Toledo Company in 1905. He would later work for Packard Motor Car Company, where he became known for his exceptional understanding of transmissions and axles. Skelton would eventually leave Packard for Studebaker at the request of Studebaker vice president and chief engineer Fred Zeder. Skelton was brought in to help design a new low-cost high volume vehicle to help Studebaker compete with Ford and General Motors. Skelton teamed up with Zeder as well as Carl Breer, and the trio of engineers became known as the “Three Musketeers”. In 1920, Skelton, Zeder, and Breer left Studebaker to form the Zeder-Skelton-Breer Engineering Company. Their engineering expertise was highly regarded, and they were soon hired by Walter P. Chrysler to join the Maxwell-Chalmers Car Company, which was reorganized as the Chrysler Corporation in 1925.
Skelton was named Chrysler’s chief engineer, and he along with Zeder and Breer began refining and improving numerous aspects of contemporary automobiles. Skelton is credited with leading the development of a rubber engine mount system for cars called “floating power”, which greatly reduced the amount of noise and vibration transmitted from the powertrain to the passenger cabin. This innovation was immensely well received, and soon proliferated throughout the entire industry. Skelton also developed the first mass-produced four-wheel hydraulic brake system, which was introduced on the 1924 Chrysler Six. Skelton would co-found the Chrysler Institute of Engineering in 1933, and was named Executive Engineer for Chrysler in 1937 and appointed a seat on Chrysler’s board of directors.
Skelton would retire from Chrysler Corporation in 1951, though he continued to serve on Chrysler’s board of directors through 1954. During his remarkable career, Owen Skelton established himself as a catalyst for innovation and one of the greatest American automotive engineers of his time.