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
I am Very grateful for...
Rafael Canseco
I am Very grateful for the services provided by Mister Transmission in Whitby. My sons older bmw needed some transmission work. I told my son that it would probably very expensive to fix and you may need to scrap the car. Denise was so understanding and made sure that only what needed to be done was done. Glad to say that the car is running fine again. Thanks Denise and staff for your professionalism and honesty. You can trust Mr. trans whitby!
Date: August 7, 2022
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Service was very good, knowledgeable...
Terry Hoare
Service was very good, knowledgeable and friendly staff
Date: August 6, 2022
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Great fast service for all...
John Polanski
Great fast service for all types of vehicles
Date: August 5, 2022
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I cannot say enough good...
Herbie Tait
I cannot say enough good things about Nav and his team. Our vehicle broke down 1600 km away from home and Nav was there to save us. Nav and the hero’s at Mister transmission104 got a potentially 5 day job done in 2 days, even staying overtime to help us out. Infinite thank you’s cannot correctly express our appreciation.
Date: August 4, 2022
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Kris, Dawn, and the rest...
Mandy Mozel
Kris, Dawn, and the rest of the crew at Mister Transmission were life savers when the transmission blew on my 2008 Ford Escape. All other transmission specialists in the city told me to rehaul the transmission without a second thought. MT error handled and tried cheaper options before having to rebuild the transmission a month earlier. This is the least painful mechanic’s experience I’ve ever had and MT will definitely be my go-to shop. Many thanks!!!
Date: August 2, 2022
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I took my BMW 330ci...
Raffaele Vitucci
I took my BMW 330ci in for a transmission oil and filter change, they seem very nice and honest and they fit me into their busy schedule. Thank you
Date: August 2, 2022
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Ken Barone, I highly recommend...
Wilfred Gamazon
Ken Barone, I highly recommend him at this location. Great guy very honest and always there to help, giving you information what’s need to be done and honest opinion about any issues of transmission services.
Date: July 31, 2022
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Literally the best group of...
Tim T.V
Literally the best group of guys you could send your car to .. since being with the boys at Mr transmission my truck has never run better 😁💯
Date: July 31, 2022
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They make best attempts to...
Brian Liz
They make best attempts to meet time lines with a well educated staff. Communication and clarity is a strong point.
Date: July 28, 2022
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Eric and his guys do...
P Vilas
Eric and his guys do a fantastic job! I had my truck in there and they were honest and a great price.
Date: July 28, 2022
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