Newsletter 39 ~ Summer 2009
George Gerards sent in an article from the North American Aviation Retirees Bulletin (Summer 2001). Because the article is longer than space permits here, I've taken excerpts ... for the full article:
THE ACORN DAYS
In aviation history, decades before geeks and nerds altered our way of life, young and gutsy aviation pioneers changed the world with their wood sticks, bailing wire, canvas and aluminum.
• How many of you know that in 1910, mighty Martin Marietta got its start in an abandoned California church? That's where Glenn L. Martin with his amazing mother Minta Martin and their mechanic Roy Beal constructed a fragile biplane that Glenn taught himself to fly. Glenn Martin built his first airplane in a vacant church, before he moved to a vacant apricot cannery in Santa Ana. He was a showman and he traveled the county fair and air meet circuit as an exhibitionist aviator From his exhibition proceeds, Glenn was able to pay his factory workers and purchase the necessary wood, linen and wire. His mother, Minta, and two men ran the factory while Glenn risked his neck and gadded about the country. One of his workers was 22-year old Donald Douglas [who WAS the entire engineering department]. A Santa Monica youngster named Larry Bell [later founded Bell Aircraft] ran the shop.
• It has often been told how Douglas Aircraft started operations in 1920 in a barbershop's backroom on L.A.'s Pico Boulevard. Interestingly, the barber-shop is still operating.
• Northrop's original location was an obscure Southern California hotel. It was available because the police had raided the hotel and found that its steady residents were money-minded gals entertaining transitory male hotel guests.
• A former small shipyard nicknamed 'Red Barn' became Boeing Aircraft's first home. Soon, a couple of airplanes were being built inside, each of them having a remarkable resemblance to Glenn Martin's airplanes …. that, interestingly, had its own remarkable resemblance to Glenn Curtiss' airplanes.
• After WWI, a bunch of sharpies from Wall Street gained control of the Wright Brothers Co in Dayton and the Martin Company in L.A. and 'stuck them' together as the Wright-Martin Company. Wright-Martin began building an obsolete biplane design with a foreign Hispano-Suiza engine. Angered because he had been outmaneuvered with a bad idea, Martin walked out …. taking Larry Bell and key employees with him.
• From the deep wallet of a wealthy baseball mogul, Martin was able to establish a new factory. Then his good luck continued, when the future aviation legend Donald Douglas, who Glenn persuaded to join his team. Martin MB-1. Quickly emerging from the team's efforts was the Martin Bomber. Although too late to enter WWI, the Martin bomber showed its superiority when Billy Mitchell made everyone mad at him by sinking several captured German battleships and cruisers.
• In 1922, Donald Douglas won a contract from the Navy to build several torpedo carrying aircraft. While driving through Santa Monica's wilderness, Douglas noticed an abandoned, barn-like movie studio. He stopped his roadster and prowled around. That abandoned studio became Douglas Aircraft's first real factory.
• With the $120,000 contract in his hand, Donald Douglas could afford to hire one or two more engineers. Gordon Scott had been schooled in the little known science of aviation at England's Fairey Aviation, so he hired Gordon.
• In May 1927, Lindbergh flew to Paris and triggered a bedlam where everyone was trying to fly everywhere.
• Interestingly, just a handful of young men played roles affecting the lives of all Americans .... as it initiated the Southern California metamorphosis, from a semi-desert with orange groves and celluloid, into a dynamic complex, supporting millions.
Although this technological explosion had startling humble beginnings, taking root as acorns in — a barber shop's back room — a vacant church — but came to fruition as mighty oaks.
Source: Denham S. Scott, North American Aviation Retirees' Bulletin
Return to Newsletter #39 Topics page
Last updated: 07/08/2012 08:24 PM