In 1895, at age five, a tragic accident happened and young Ralph became blind, and changed this gifted young boy for the rest of his life. Ralph Teetor’s parents and family decided on living their lives as if Ralph could see, teaching him to “look” at things with his hands. He accepted the challenge in a world of darkness.
Ralph walked about town, never using a cane, but sensed where he was by hearing the echo of his footsteps, counting steps, or touching a familiar bush. He listened to voices and horse & buggies on the dirt streets. Ralph learned to type, refusing to learn Braille, preferring to be read to.
The University of Michigan told Ralph they couldn’t find a way to teach a blind student engineering and could not accept him. Undeterred, he argued his case at the University of Pennsylvania with the dean of engineering, who reluctantly accepted Ralph, thinking he would last only two weeks. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1912, and would return in 1930 to receive his Masters in Mechanical Engineering degree.
Teetor was also reluctantly accepted as a mechanical adviser in WWI, at a shipyard and balanced turbine rotors precisely, solving a major problem top naval engineers couldn’t fix, using his keen sense of touch and vibration. Ralph said in an interview, “If those who have been seriously incapacitated and have before them what seem almost impossible readjustments to make, could realize that mental attitude is everything, it would help them.”
Ralph carried a pocket watch that chimed to the minute. Telephones, doorbells, clocks chimed, each with its own unique sound to identify each room.
Ralph Teetor addressed 200 blind veterans in 1945, and these are several excerpts: “Remember, you are not handicapped so long as you think logically. Many times, during the past forty-nine years, people have told me how sorry they were that I’m handicapped. My answer to them has always been, that I am not handicapped, because I have never considered myself so. . . .
It will take courage and hard work for you to to become accustomed to your new way of life. But you will make it by holding your heads high, and never allowing yourself to falter.”
When asked about his “Cruise Control” invention during a speech in 1974, Ralph said, “The speed control I invented; I think if I could drive a car, I doubt that I would have ever developed the thing.” As Ralph Teetor would have wanted, the fact that he achieved all that he did, without his sight, is often unmentioned.