General Motors vice president Charles Kettering is most famously known for his automotive inventions, such as the first electrical starter motor and leaded gasoline, and the 185 patents he held. Less understood are his contributions to medicine and science. An extraordinarily broad tinkerer, Kettering also developed several medical innovations, such as an incubator for premature infants, treatments for venereal disease, and magnetic diagnostic devices.
In addition, Kettering was a visionary philanthropist who devoted his wealth to funding projects that could be as productive as his contraptions. In 1945, he and Alfred Sloan, another General Motors vice president, established the Sloan Kettering Institute, the first private biomedical research center of its sort in the world. The center was built next to Memorial Hospital, an institution with its own long and impressive philanthropic history. Founded in 1884 as a specialized cancer hospital by a group that included Mr. and Mrs. John Astor, the hospital was moved in 1936 to its current location, on land donated by John Rockefeller Jr.
From its founding, the Sloan Kettering Institute aimed to harness the latest technology and research techniques to battle cancer. Matching the spirit of its founders, it held fast to the principle that advances in research always rest on “the creative genius of individual scientists.” In 1980, the institute and the hospital were combined into a single entity and today the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the nation’s leading biomedical research institutions and treatment facilities, treating more than 400 different subtypes of cancer with specialized regimens and advancing the state of the art via more than 120 research labs. In 2012, the first graduates matriculated from the center’s new Ph.D. program in cancer biology.
- History of Sloan Kettering Institute and Memorial Hospital, mskcc.org/about/history-overview
- Charles Kettering biography, mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00271-6/fulltext