Actually it was an investment by Joseph Eaton in the first gear-driven truck axle that created a corporation that 100 years later is now investing in EV charging stations.
The company, which employs 70,000 and saw sales of $11.9 billion in 2009, points to innovation as the key to its success.
"Our company has grown and changed considerably during its first 100 years, but we remain dedicated to the spirit of innovation and ideals that inspired Joseph Eaton," said Alexander M. Cutler, Eaton CEO.
Here's a look at some of the company's milestones in innovation:
*The first passenger car air conditioner affordable enough for the average consumer was an Eaton product, introduced in 1952.
*NASA chose Eaton in 1978 to design and build a new landing system for the space shuttle; in further collaboration, Eaton developed a prototype electric vehicle (EV) propulsion system, unveiled on NASA's EV prototype in 1989.
*In early 2000s the company developed the first hydraulic hybrid power system for delivery trucks and brought its leading hybrid technology to fleets of city buses in China
* In 2009 the company's hydraulic equipment played a critical role in the dramatic rescue last fall of a group of trapped Chilean miners; rigs equipped with Eaton products drilled the initial bore hole that allowed rescuers to locate the miners and later were used to widen the shaft that eventually freed them.
*In 2010 the company provided key wind-power technologies to Guodian United Power Technology Co. Ltd., a wind turbine manufacturer in China.
* In Dec.2010 the company announced that customers of its hybrid systems have collectively accumulated more than 100 million miles of service, reducing fuel consumption by 4 million gallons of diesel fuel and harmful emissions by 40,000 metric tons.