While speed governing systems have been around on automobiles almost as long as they have existed (the first known one was installed on a Wilson-Pilcher car in 1900) and similar systems have been around long before that to control steam engines (as far back as the 17th century), the invention of the modern cruise control system is credited to inventor and Automotive Hall of Famer, Ralph Teetor- a man who couldn’t actually drive due to being completely blind.
The inspiration for the cruise control system struck Teetor while he was riding with his lawyer in the 1940s. He noticed the lawyer had a tendency to slow down while talking and speed up while listening. This annoyed Teetor, who decided to come up with a device to control the speed of the car automatically. After several years of tinkering, in 1948 he filed his first patent for a device to accomplish just this. (US 2519859)
It took him almost another decade, and a few more patents filed improving his original device, to finally come up with a version that would be installed on a commercially sold vehicle. The first cars to boast the new technology were the 1958 models of the Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor. By 1960, cruise control was a standard feature on all Cadillacs. The system worked by calculating ground speed based on driveshaft rotations. It then used a solenoid, as needed, to vary the position of the throttle cable.
Cruise control went by several names in the early days. It was initially called everything from “Speedostat,” to “Touchomatic” and “Auto-Pilot.” It was Chrysler who finally came up with the “cruise control” name. (Personally, I’d have preferred “Speedostat”…) Different versions of the cruise control system were soon invented by various people, with the systems receiving a big boost in popularity thanks to the oil crisis of the 1970s and the savings in fuel a cruise control system can potentially have, depending on one’s driving habits. Today, the cruise control systems are still evolving, including beginning to incorporate some more advanced self-driving features such as automatic braking.