Our History

  Our History

The Charles F. Kettering Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, operating foundation engaged in research for the improvement of society. Founded in 1927 by Charles F. Kettering, best known for inventing the automobile self-starter, the foundation carries on his legacy of rigorous research and his steadfast belief that progress and a better future are attainable through change and innovation.


At its start, the Kettering Foundation was broadly committed to the advancement of human knowledge, the progress of the arts and sciences, and the endowment of public, educational, and other charitable projects. Since that time, the foundation has undergone two major changes in how it does its work: In the late 1960s, Kettering shifted from being a grantmaking foundation to an operating foundation. In the 1980s, the foundation decided to center all its research and programming on the project of strengthening democracy, both in the US and around the globe, with a special emphasis on the role of the citizen in democracy. Over the course of more than four decades, Kettering earned a distinguished reputation in the field of deliberative democracy, guided by the belief that democratic societies advance through mechanisms and rights that foster citizen engagement.


Now, under the leadership of Sharon L. Davies and working against the backdrop of rapidly evolving global threats to democracy, Kettering is widening its aperture. A broader focus will enable the foundation to tackle the most pressing challenges to democracy today and contribute to a future where citizens are informed and engaged in shaping their collective future.

"We must learn how to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world."