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
These days, among all the...
Tony D
These days, among all the horror stories you hear about auto shops who either don't know what they're doing or flat out make things worse (and charge mightily either way), it's easy to overlook the real gems who deliver over and above. This shop came highly recommended to me by my son's auto shop class teacher - this on top of the numerous and overall excellent Google reviews. I had transmission shifting problems with an old Dodge pickup truck with which they were initially unfamiliar, and not only did they take on the challenge, research possible causes, and effect what appeared to be logical repairs (at a *very* reasonable price, I might add), when those repairs turned out not to be the root cause of the problem they took it upon themselves to further track down and fix the problem without additional charge (drawing upon their networks of other contacts in the industry to do so). All in a timely manner, keeping well-appraised of their progress every step of the way. As a small business owner myself, I can say that you simply can not expect better service than this. If I could give more than 5 stars I would. Although this is my first experience with them, I will not go anywhere else in the future for transmission work on any vehicle I own.
Date: April 17, 2021
Website: Google
Mister Transmission saved us! We...
Natasha Mohammed
Mister Transmission saved us! We had a sudden car issue and were taken care of by Raman. He quickly let us know how to get our vehicle to the shop and was very transparent about the process. He was up front with all costs beforehand and was very responsive, putting us immediately at ease. The fix was completed quickly and even before the estimated time given! We were super pleased with his professionalism, knowledge and workmanship. Car issues suck, but this was an excellent, pain free, no hassle, process. Highly recommend!Thank you Raman & Mister Transmission team!
Date: April 16, 2021
Website: Google
The owner went above and...
Lillian Mason
The owner went above and beyond to fix my car. So much so he called one of his employees back after they were closed to check another issue for me that was unrelated to my original issue. Amazing is all I can say
Date: April 16, 2021
Website: Google
Paul was the gentleman who...
Michael James
Paul was the gentleman who was taking care of my appointment. He was very informative with the issues I was having with my transmission. He was honest in giving his opinion on what course of repair I should use to fix my issue. His customer service and personability were exemplar. The repair was done in a timely manner and he even did some cleaning of the engine bay of my car without mentioning it. For any transmission or drive system repairs I wouldn't recommend any shop other than this one.
Date: April 15, 2021
Website: Google
Staff are super knowledgeable and...
Green Rhino
Staff are super knowledgeable and prices are fair with great explainations. Will definitely be back! Thanks Peter.
Date: April 14, 2021
Website: Google
Been here a couple times...
Jess O
Been here a couple times with a couple different vehicles. Fair price for the work needed, and the work is completed quickly. Knowledgeable and professional staff. Very honest about the severity and urgency of the issue, didn't try to make it seem like a bigger deal than it was.Very refreshing for this industry! Overall excellent experience and I highly recommend the Mister Transmission in Whitby!
Date: April 11, 2021
Website: Google
Nice people great service
Rob A
Nice people great service
Date: April 10, 2021
Website: Google
Chris has gone above and...
Kathy Kaun
Chris has gone above and beyond over and over for my vehicle and he stands behind his work. I can not recommend this place enough. I’d give them 100*
Date: April 9, 2021
Website: Google
Do not hesitate to get...
Derek Gibson
Do not hesitate to get Mr. Transmission to take a look at your vehicle. They will properly diagnose and fix your issues, with no hidden nonsense. Very straight shooters. Cam was great to deal with. They completely rebuilt my transmission, and I ran into a small issue later on. They took care of my issue under warranty, and it didn’t cost me a penny. Fantastic mechanics and customer service! We will be returning for any vehicle needs in the future.
Date: April 9, 2021
Website: Google
Great customer service. Fast, Professional...
HIMAL PATEL
Great customer service. Fast, Professional and most importantly they guide you in the right direction. Very knowledgeable staff.
Date: April 9, 2021
Website: Google
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