A Brief History of the Automatic Transmission

By Mister Transmission

No more missed shift gates. No engine lugging or racing. No torn-stocking, high-heel clutch-pedaling dramas. None of that. Just press the gas and go.

 

The introduction of the automatic transmission did this by offering a “no-muss, no-fuss” form of shifting. The earliest automobiles offered only manual transmissions, which were similar in principle to today’s stick-shift vehicles. These cars sported two forward gears and one reverse, coupled to the engine via a series of pedals. But as cars grew larger and traffic got worse, engineers began searching for a way to have the car “automatically” shift from one gear to another. Designers spent decades perfecting the modern automatic transmission. Here we offer a brief introduction and overview of the history of the automatic transmission.

The First Automatic Transmissions

The first automatic transmission was invented in 1921 by a Canadian steam engineer, Alfred Horner Munro. Munro designed his device to use compressed air rather than hydraulic fluid so it lacked power and never became sold commercially. General Motors then developed the first automatic transmission using hydraulic fluid in the 1930’s, and introduced the “Hydra-Matic” transmission in 1940.

The 1948 Oldsmobile was the first model to use a true automatic transmission. The Hyrda-Matic, developed by GM engineer, Earl Thompson, was advertised as: “The greatest advance since the self-starter.” The Hydra-Matic went through continual upgrading and refinements through 1955, but the basic design and theory used were consistent throughout its remarkably long life span. General Motors replaced the Hydra-Matic in 1956 with the Jetaway. The “Jet” was not a roaring success and quickly gave way to the Turbo Hydra-Matic in 1969.

The Hydra-Matic Transmission

The original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the way for every subsequent autoshifter.

The technology came along at an opportune time in history as North America was abundant with victory from World War II and building up steam for the post-war boom. Scads of babies and cars were produced (not necessarily in that order). Into those cars they dropped thousands of automatic transmissions. With its simplicity and ease of use, the automatic transmission offered up the automobile to the masses, fulfilling the promise of President Hoover, whom a generation earlier had promised “a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.” At the very least it widened the perspective of an increasingly mobile workforce, fed the flow of migration to the suburbs, and welcomed women back into the economy following the war effort.

The most significant changes/improvements in automatic transmission design to date are the number of forward gears transmissions now have and the switch from mechanically controlled to electronically controlled transmission operations. Mechanically controlled automatic transmissions have reached their limit in terms of future improvements while electronically (or computer) controlled automatic gearboxes have only touched the surface of the possibilities.

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Jeffrey Dominic
Awesome customer service. A year after my transmission repair I felt an adjustment was required to my transmission and they performed it free of charge standing behind the quality of their work.
Date: October 8, 2021
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Jared Shura
I have known Eric and his crew for some time now. As a mechanic, I often come across difficult transmission related issues that get sent to him and resolved quickly and fairly priced. I just had Eric rebuild the transmission in my truck and I couldn’t believe how fairly priced the work was and the transmission shifts perfect now. Wouldn’t recommend anyone else but Eric at Mr.Transmission.
Date: October 7, 2021
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R R
Mister Transmission staff were very professional and friendly. Answered all our questions and kept us upto date with the process.Jenna is wonderful she is friendly and professional and was able to respond in timely matter . Thank you Jenna your are great employee. I highly recommend them for any one in moncton and surrounding areas. They did an excellent work thank you so much.Ruby
Date: October 7, 2021
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Julie Restas
Jeff was very kind and helped me a great deal. Would recommend to anyone. Diagnosis was not transmission recommended to go for other problem, did not charge me Unbelievable service and trustworthy.
Date: October 7, 2021
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Jim Cerant
It is not too often when you find a local business that has over 50 5 star ratings, and when you do, you know that you are at the right place to get what you need, done. that was my experience with Mr. Transmission in Owen Sound . My first point of Contact was Warren who was great to speak with and we arranged a time to bring the car in. Later that week after I dropped off the car I had a chance to speak with the owner Chris. Again. another great guy to speak with and knew I was at the right place. They diagnosed the problem - Told me what it needed- gave me the price - fixed the problem- and in no time at all I was on my way. That is what I call great customer service. if you want to RYDNSTYL you need to visit Mr. Transmission in Owen Sound. Jim
Date: October 5, 2021
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Paul Ferrante
Got my trans fixed here. It still had issues brought it back and they honored the warranty with no hassle at all .. very pleasant management.. very easy to talk to . Great job . Truck is running perfect again . I recommend these guys..
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