4 Visionaries Who Changed Transportation Forever

Ever wonder who invented GPS, cruise control, and the drive-thru? In honor of Pioneer Day, we put the spotlight on some automotive movers and shakers.

July 24 is Pioneer Day, a day to remember those who broke new ground, reached new heights, and saw opportunity where others saw certain failure.

At Esurance, we’re big fans of innovation, particularly when it comes to the automotive world. So we thought we’d pay homage to some of the men and women who made transportation what it is today.

The first real road trip

As you may know, Karl Benz of Germany is considered the inventor of the first true automobile. But his creation might have flopped if it wasn’t for his wife, Bertha. In 1888, no one wanted to buy Benz’s mysterious horseless carriages, believing they were unreliable. Bertha decided to prove them wrong and, without her husband’s knowledge, set out with her 2 teenage sons on a 65-mile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back. Before this time, automobiles had only been driven short distances.

Despite a few mishaps (they ran out of fuel at one point and Bertha had to clear a blocked fuel line with her hairpin later on), the trio made it safely to Pforzheim that same evening. News of their amazing journey quickly spread, putting an end to concerns about reliability and proving that the automobile could be useful in everyday life.

The first drive-thru

Next time you pick up a quick lunch at the drive-thru, who should you thank? Ray Kroc of McDonald’s? Harry and Esther Snyder of In-N-Out Burger? No, you should raise your 21 oz. soda to R. Crosby Kemper, the Kansas City banker who installed a drive-up teller window in City Center Bank in 1928. It’s believed to be the country’s first drive-thru — fast-food restaurants didn’t pick up the trend until the late 1940s.

Cruise control

Have you ever been a passenger in a car and wished there was a way you could instantly improve the skill of your driver? (Who hasn’t?) That’s what happened to the creator of cruise control, Ralph Teetor. Blinded in an accident at the age of 5, Teetor grew up to be a prolific inventor — his heightened senses of touch and hearing gave him an exceptional ability to solve mechanical problems. Though many of his inventions were for cars, he never drove one himself. The inspiration for cruise control came after a particularly jerky ride with his patent attorney, who had trouble maintaining a consistent speed behind the wheel. Teetor patented his invention in 1953 under the name Speedostat, and it was first featured on Chrysler models in 1958.

GPS

Where would we be without GPS? Probably making a frantic U-turn in a strange town, squinting at a paper map (remember those?) and muttering unprintable words. Instead, as we follow the soothing voice or serene blue dot to our destination, we can give a nod to pioneering physicist Roger Easton. His TIMATION program, a 3-D navigation system using earth-orbiting satellites with super precise clocks, was the essential basis for the U.S. Global Positioning System. Though originally developed in the ‘60s for military use, GPS is now available to civilians with important missions like not getting profoundly lost on the way to a job interview.

Esurance as automotive pioneer

As one of the first online car insurance companies, we’ve always been out in front with innovative tools and services that help make insurance hassle-free. Our interactive What If® Calculator, for example, lets you find out how certain hypothetical incidents (like a ticket or moving to a new ZIP Code) can affect your rates. And our new photo claims feature helps you get an appraisal right from your smartphone if you have a minor car accident. After filing your claim, you simply send photos of the damage to Esurance through our mobile app. Within one business day, our claims department will get in touch to discuss your options. It’s that simple.

These are just 2 of our latest tools. We’re working on a bunch of exciting new ones as we speak, so stay tuned.

What are some innovations you’d like to see? Is there a pioneer (automotive or otherwise) you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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