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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Customer Reviews
Good and friendly and reliable...
Albert Wilton
Good and friendly and reliable people and they work hard to get your vehicle doneService: Transmission
Date: July 25, 2021
Website: Google
Thank you, Mister Transmission! After...
Christy McMurray
Thank you, Mister Transmission! After taking my vehicle to the dealership where I bought it, and paying $150 for them to tell me what I already told them was wrong, the Dealer gave me a quote of $6,500 to replace my 9 year old transmission with a factory rebuilt one, because it couldn't be fixed or rebuilt by them. Thankfully I called Mister Transmission and Chris knew exactly what the issue was, how to fix it, and it only cost me $385 for everything and it was fixed in a day. I am so grateful that Chris and Dawn run an honest operation and provide genuinely great service. Thanks again!
Date: July 25, 2021
Website: Google
Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome....
Sarah MacArthur
Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome. We ended up having a small issue but they still took the time to show me where on my vehicle the problems were and fully explain the possible issues. They were prompt in getting back to me the following day and I had my vehicle back in no time. Chris and Nick were amazing and the office is so clean and pleasant. Great customer service!
Date: July 24, 2021
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Great service , friendly and...
John Neven
Great service , friendly and very knowledgeable.Excellent work
Date: July 23, 2021
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Mazda 3 AT light came...
Chris Elmquist
Mazda 3 AT light came on one with some bad noises and clunking. Dealer said need a new transmission for only $4400. Took it to this and a quick check they determined it needed new TCM which is very common on the mazdas. They took care of it and even did a bunch of extra work fixing a wiring harness all for the cost of the TCM . cannot say enough about how we were treated by Chris and Dawn. Would recommend them. FIRST CLASS!!!!!
Date: July 23, 2021
Website: Google
Workers are very nice and...
Ely Bolivar
Workers are very nice and explain thing clearly. Also they have an option to finance your repairs.
Date: July 22, 2021
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They assessed the problem quickly,...
Colleen H
They assessed the problem quickly, quoted a good price, provided fast service, in a no-pressure, friendly manner. I've been telling everybodyService: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
Website: Google
I took my differentials down...
Kieran Massicotte
I took my differentials down to get rebuilt and Steve was very professional and the total was 200 bucks cheaper than the quoted price and there was a few things during the whole process that didn’t go as planned as I had brought all the bearings parts and some bearings were the wrong ones and I had brought 4.88s to put in end they would not work and before continuing with anything Steve would call and double check to let you know what needs to be done and get the ok from me first before they would continue overall amazing place Steve and the guys were awesome and the work was done perfect and the diffs have never been more smooth highly recommend.
Date: July 20, 2021
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Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Eduardo Vieira
Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
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Thank you Kyle and the...
Roman Danko
Thank you Kyle and the Mr. Transmission team for very professional and friendly customer service and repair. I definitelly recommend their services.Service: Transmission
Date: July 19, 2021
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