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
Chris and the technician that...
Hussien Tarhini
Chris and the technician that work there are great guys to deal with. Honesty is their title. Very informative and explains the sue with the vehicle ..highly recomanded.
Date: November 30, 2022
Website: Google
This place, the owner, the...
Elizabeth Patterson
This place, the owner, the everyone.. All of them absolutely amazing! From the free diagnostic to the surprisingly painless cost of fixing my car.. They are a wonderful, incredibly skilled, and most of all a caring crew. Go there for sure to get anything done for your car. I can't say enough nice things about them. They're so good that I am switching from my mechanic of more than five years and taking my car here for all of its service from now on. When you go here too, you sure as heck won't be let down or disappointed.
Date: November 30, 2022
Website: Google
Staff and owner are great...
Hayward Rideout
Staff and owner are great Good service ..quick and courteous .we will return
Date: November 29, 2022
Website: Google
Zaffar is one of the...
Kishore Naidu
Zaffar is one of the best person I have ever met. Very polite, helpful and first to offer the services. Anytime it’s a to go place for your car.
Date: November 29, 2022
Website: Google
Eric is very helpful and...
Owen Smith
Eric is very helpful and knowledgeable. Great team.
Date: November 28, 2022
Website: Google
They took care of me...
Dean Drimmie
They took care of me promptly and at a very reasonable price. Friendly staff, great service
Date: November 28, 2022
Website: Google
They have amazing service and...
Dave Gravel
They have amazing service and was there to help diagnose my problem
Date: November 27, 2022
Website: Google
Great place to grow
Automotive Technician
I was a tech at Mr T for about 2 years and really enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot about the auto industry in a shop that was calm, clean and organized. Pros Mon-Fri 8-5
Date: November 26, 2022
Website: indeed
Honest professional service. Took my...
M C
Honest professional service. Took my van for second opinion after being told it'll need a rebuild of transmission, the diagnosis; the fluid was low and needed topping up. Thank you Mr. Transmission for saving me $$ and your honesty.
Date: November 26, 2022
Website: Google
Good day! i just wanted...
Ken Barone
Good day! i just wanted to reply to the review by Lorenzo. I think its best to shed some light on the repair to Lorenzo's Cadillac V series car. the car was in for repair, and yes, had issue's with the transmission .and when the car left. the parts for his Cadillac are on nation wide back order. since last march of 2021. i also tried to find a used transmission, ordered one and but was not the same. besides our shop is very busy, it took time to search for parts ,and waiting for the used transmission to arrive. after exhausting every avenue. i had to called and explained to the customer. he said he is fed up with this car. im going to just sell it!and get rid of the car. Maybe just take it the way it is and tow back to my house then sell it the way it is? i said i think it would be better if i reassemble the transmission and then install back into the car. i said no extra cost to assemble the transmission only to remove and reinstallation. Lorenzo said that the shifter cover was already like that when it came in. My goodwill offer on labour still stands with no hard feelings. and if for some reason parts become available i would still be happy to help. feel free to reach out to me anytime. Ken
Date: November 26, 2022
Website: Google
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