What You Didn't Know About General Motors

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When you think of General Motors, you think of cars and trucks. Over the past hundred years, GM has scored dozens of “firsts” that are little known even to car buffs.

What you may not know is that GM’s other activities have ranged from the first diesel locomotive to medical research, the Apollo space program, and several other areas that will surprise most people. The following list is just a sample of little known historical GM feats — a mini-version of GM’s own Guinness Book of World Records.

In 1919, GM bought an unknown company that had built the world’s first commercial refrigerator for $100,000 and re-named it Frigidaire. Eight years later, Frigidaire was a household name and was contributing more than $15 million to GM’s annual net earnings.

One of the early non-automotive enterprises that GM bought in the 1920s eventually became known as Eastern Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the U.S. until it was broken up in the late 1970s.

In 1929, GM’s Frigidaire Division brought the world’s first room air conditioner to market.

GM Research demonstrated the revolutionary two-stroke diesel engine, which had been in development for five years, at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The President of Burlington Railroad saw the exhibit and immediately ordered one built for his railroad’s new streamlined Pioneer Zephyr. The Zephyr’s speed and efficiency spelled the end of the steam locomotive and the GM two-stroke diesel was soon adopted not only by railroads but manufacturers of heavy trucks, boats, and off-road equipment around the world.

During World War II, GM was the Allied Forces’ biggest supplier, delivering more than $12 billion in goods ranging from airplanes to tanks, marine diesel engines, trucks, machine guns, bullets, and artillery shells.

GM scientists and engineers developed and built the world’s first mechanical heart pump in 1952, making possible the world’s first open heart surgery. Today, it is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1955, GM collaborated with Lockheed and IBM to develop the world’s first computer operating system: today, GM’s cars have 10 times the computing power of that system and more than the computer system used in Apollo moon rockets.

GM was a leader in developing and manufacturing the guidance and navigation systems for commercial aircraft in the 1960s and was tapped to develop and build the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo 11 astronauts’ mission to the moon in 1969.

GM designed and manufactured the mobility system for the Lunar Roving Vehicle used by the Apollo 15 astronauts to navigate the moon’s surface in 1971. This unique vehicle is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

In the early 1970s, after experimenting with several different designs and materials, GM median safety barrier: the same basic design and concept are still used on highways across the U.S. today.

In 1974, GM’s earth-moving equipment division, Terex, built the world’s largest truck, called the Terex Titan. Used in mining operations, it was powered by a 3,300 horsepower locomotive engine supplied by GM’s Electro-Motive Division. It measured 66 feet in length and 22.6 feet scientists and engineers at the Milford Proving Ground developed the first metal highway in height and could haul a load of more than 360 tons.

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