Labor-Saving Automotive Inventions

by Natalie Peterson

This Labor Day, let’s flip through the history book and take a look at some of America’s most incredible, life-simplifying automotive inventions.


The next time you turn the ignition, be sure to thank H.J. Dowsing and Charles Kettering for inventing the electric starter system. It all began with Dowsing, who coupled a dynamotor to an 1896 Arnold flywheel, ultimately creating the self-starter. Kettering further refined that system by creating an “engine-starting device,” which was first installed in a 1912 Cadillac before officially being patented in 1915.


Power windows became ubiquitous in the 1980s, but they were around long before Flock of Seagulls ‘dos and keytar solos were all the rage. In fact, they originated from advances in power convertible tops in the late 1930s. In 1941, manufacturers began including power windows in Packard 180 and other luxury models, though it would take nearly 40 years for them to become common car features.


The reassuring thud of all-door locks clicking into place—Ah, what a pleasant sound! Credit for this peace of mind goes to Detroit’s own Scripps-Booth and their revolutionary 1915 Model C. Four decades later, electric door locks started to become more popular, especially in luxury vehicles. The rest, as they say, is history.


In the past, “slamming on the brakes” was a literal action — drivers had to use all their might to press the brake pedal. But now, thanks to power-assisted brakes, that phrase is more figurative. Power-assisted brake technology was pioneered by Fred Duesenberg, who first used hydraulic brakes on his racing cars in 1914. The 1921 Model A was the first production car to feature this innovation.


Humans aren’t cats—we can’t see in the dark. Before modern headlamps, that physical limitation made driving at night a difficult and dangerous proposition. Acetylene gas lamps, or Carbide lamps, were the norm prior to the 20th century, but they were far from ideal due to their own physical limitations. Then, in 1898, America was introduced to the Columbia Electric Car, which featured electric headlamps. In 1908, Peerless automobiles began featuring these headlights, but it was Cadillac who opened the floodgates by making electric lamps standard in 1912.


With the touch of a button, adjusting your seat position is no longer a hefty task. Two-way power seats first appeared as an option on 1946 Buick Supers, while four-way power seats became common in 1953 Lincolns. Today, power-adjustable seats are far from a luxury, as they’re standard in many models.


Automatic climate control systems may not be perfect, but they sure are handy! Cadillac was the first to recognize this, introducing Comfort Control in their 1964 models.


Rain-sensing windshield wipers have been around for quite some time, with the first sensors appearing as early as the 1951 GM Le Sabre concept convertible. This revolutionary technology raised Le Sabre’s powered top when moisture was detected, but it was adopted by other limited-production vehicles to operate the wiper blades during the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that rain-sensing windshield wipers became more common on luxury production models, and only within the past two decades have they become a common option on modern cars.


If you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic, you know how much of a lifesaver an automatic transmission can be. But did you know that the first automatic transmission was invented in 1904, 35 years before GM’s Hydra-Matic? The Sturtevant brothers created the first automatic transmission, which used centrifugal weights to engage one of two gears. (Unfortunately, the Sturtevant Automatic Automobile was unreliable due to the weights’ tendencies to fly off.)

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Improving your dealership’s processes and sales doesn’t require a world-changing invention. Contact a Maritz representative to find out more about our various coaching, digital marketing and analytics solutions.

If you’re looking for a different take on Labor Saving Automotive Inventions, then you’ll want to check out Charlie Ascher’s blog. It was the inspiration for this blog, so be sure to give it a read and get a fresh perspective on the subject!