Tag Archives: Ralph R. Teetor

American Underslung Traveler

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1913 American Underslung Traveler.

1913 American Underslung Traveler

The American Motor Car Company is most noted for an innovative design referred to as the underslung. While most car frames of the period were mounted on top of the axles, the American built the chassis of its sports roadsters under the axles. This created a vehicle that was lower to the ground.

Fred I. Tone’s first assignment as chief engineer and designer for American was to design a completely “All-American car from American-made materials.” Interestingly, the inspiration for this low sports roadster design came serendipitously. One day in 1906, when the frames were delivered to American, they were unloaded upside down. Tone seized upon the idea to mount the frame under the axles. The “underslung” was born. From that day on, American built all roadsters underslung, while continuing to make touring cars and sedans on conventionally overslung chassis.

When the 1907 Roadster was announced, American stated that output would be limited to 150 cars for the year. The Roadsters that garnered numerous headlines in races during the summer of 1907 inspired building a more powerful roadster. Soon, American cars were becoming well-known for attention to detail. The magnificent marquee of an eagle on top of the world adorned the radiator face.

In the summer of 1909, Tone designed a modified four-passenger roadster with a divided rear seat. Under American’s 1910 slogan “A Car for The Discriminating Few,” the company produced 300 units for the year.

This Company set out to reconfigure the American line-up to compete in the medium price market for 1912. These models rode on the underslung chassis, and the company adopted “American Underslung” as the car’s name. Model year 1912 became American’s biggest sales year, with an estimated 1,000 units produced.

The 1913 Scout was priced at $1,475 and sported a new 105-inch wheelbase. Prices on the Tourist rose to $2,350. The Scout three-passenger coupe sold for $2,000. The Tourist Limousine, priced at $3,500, was finished in black leather on a 124-inch chassis. All models included electric starting and lighting systems.

The company announced the 1914 American Underslung Six on April 12, 1913, in the Saturday Evening Post. Yet, this proved to be an inopportune time for new automobiles because the country was trying to shake off the effects of the disastrous floods in late March and early April. This natural phenomenon virtually wiped out the anticipated spring business boom. In November, however, the Federal Court adjudged American bankrupt and appointed Frank E. Smith as receiver. By the spring of 1914, Smith deemed it advisable to suspend operations.

Supplier Ralph R. Teetor of the Teetor-Hartley Motor Company, purchased the last American Underslung built in 1914. The car was a magnificent, 75 h.p., six-cylinder, seven-passenger touring car painted a brilliant lavender. Perhaps Teetor has provided the best epitaph for this Indiana-built car: “I do believe that the American Underslung cars had the most dramatic appeal of any cars that were ever built, and ever since that company failed, have wished that it could have survived.”

The American Underslung is an interesting story for one of America’s first sports cars. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for showing it. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Ralph R. Teetor

Ralph R. Teetor is most well known as the inventor of cruise control and president of Perfect Circle Corporation in Hagerstown. Throughout his career, he displayed an astonishing competence with machinery and confidence with people and places even though he had been blind from the age of five. Teetor developed unusual coping mechanisms and lived his life as if he could see. Many who came into contact with him never realized he was blind.

Ralph Teetor
Ralph Teetor
Copyright © 1995 Marjorie Teetor Meyer

His interest in automobiles developed early on. When he was 12 years old, Teetor and his second cousin built an automobile during the summer of 1902. Mechanical engineering became his career choice, and he graduated in the top third of his class from University of Pennsylvania in 1912 with a degree in this field.

In 1918, while working on a contract for the Navy at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, Teetor developed a process to dynamically balance steam turbine rotors. He succeeded where many other engineers had failed. The new process was used through World War II.

In May of 1924 Teetor invented and patented a fluid-actuated automatic gear shift. The Bendix Company bought the patent and produced an automatic gearshift for Hudson. After World War II, popularity of the automatic transmission grew dramatically. For the next 40 years, most of the automatic transmissions on automobiles were based on the principles of his invention.

In 1936, Teetor was inspired to invent cruise control while riding with his patent lawyer one day. The lawyer would slow down while talking and speed up while listening. The rocking motion so annoyed Teetor that he was determined to invent a speed control device. He filed for the first patent on his device in the spring of 1945. Obstacles developed in production and delayed the debut of cruise control until 1958 on the Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor models. Teetor’s persistence paid off again in the commercialization of a device that is now standard equipment on many automobiles.

In 1946, Teetor became president of Perfect Circle Corporation, where he had worked in various engineering capacities for the previous 32 years.

Teetor was posthumously inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1988 for his numerous contributions to the industry.

I recommend the following book on Ralph Teetor: One Man’s Vision: The Life of Automotive Pioneer Ralph R. Teetor, by Marjorie Teetor Meyer, ISBN 1878208675 for more information.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link