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Allen, William McPherson (01 September 1900–29 October 1985), chief officer of the Boeing Company, was born in Lolo, Montana, the son of Charles Maurice, a mining engineer, and Gertrude Maud Hughes, an orchardist. Following preparatory school in Missoula, Montana, he enlisted in the army for a short time during World War I. Upon his return, he went on to graduate from the University of Montana in 1922. Later he characterized himself as a middling student who became more serious in the process of earning a law degree at Harvard....

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Beech, Olive Ann (25 September 1903–06 July 1993), cofounder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation, was born Olive Ann Mellor in Waverly, Kansas, the youngest of four daughters of Franklin Benjamin Mellor and Susannah Miller Mellor, both originally from Ohio. As a young girl, Olive Ann moved with her family from their farm in Waverly to the larger town of Paola, Kansas, where her father became a full-time carpenter. Olive Ann managed her own bank account starting at age seven, and by eleven she was in charge of writing checks to pay the family bills. Unlike the famous flier ...

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Bell, Lawrence Dale (05 April 1894–20 October 1956), aircraft manufacturer, was born in Mentone, Indiana, the son of Isaac Bell, a lumber mill operator, and Harriet Sarber. When Bell was thirteen, his family moved to Santa Monica, California. After his graduation from Santa Monica Polytechnic High School in 1912, Bell secured his first job in aviation as an aircraft mechanic for his brother Grover E. Bell and Lincoln Beachey. Bell decided to leave aviation after the death of his brother in an exhibition flight on 4 July 1913, but one year later he reentered the industry by taking a mechanic’s position on the shop floor of the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in Santa Ana, California. Bell’s drive earned him rapid promotion at Martin, and he was named superintendent at the age of twenty. As superintendent, he created one of the aircraft industry’s best engineering teams, centered on ...

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Bellanca, Giuseppe Mario (19 March 1886–26 December 1960), aircraft manufacturer, was born in Sciacca, Sicily, the son of Andrea Bellanca, a flour mill owner, and Concetta Merlo. Bellanca spent his childhood in Sciacca. After his high school graduation, he attended the Technical Institute of Milan, Italy. While attending school in Milan, Bellanca’s interest in aviation emerged. During his third year Bellanca, with help from two friends, Enea Bossi and Paolo Invernizzi, designed and built his first aircraft. On 8 December 1909 the little biplane was ready for its first flight. The honor of this flight was given to Bellanca’s partner Bossi. He promptly crashed and destroyed the aircraft on the first attempt. After graduating from the Technical Institute with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, Bellanca became professor of industrial mathematics at the Royal Institute of Milan....

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Berlin, Donovan Reese (13 June 1898–17 May 1982), aircraft designer and executive, was born in Romona, Indiana, the son of Charles N. Berlin and Maude Easter Mull, farmers. After high school at Brook, Indiana, Berlin enrolled in the Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering in September 1916 but withdrew almost immediately when his father insisted he stay home and work the farm. He reentered the university in September 1917 and completed a B.S.M.E. on 8 June 1921. His first employment, as an assistant in the aerodynamics laboratory of the Air Service at McCook Field at Dayton, Ohio, from 1921 to 1926, launched his career in aeronautics....

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Boeing, William Edward (01 October 1881–28 September 1956), aviation industry pioneer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Wilhelm Boeing and Marie Ortman. His father, a native of Germany, and his mother, born in Vienna, emigrated to the United States with considerable wealth. They invested mainly in tracts of iron-ore and timber lands in Michigan and the rich Mesabi range. His father died when Boeing was just eight years old. His mother, known for her stern values and reserved, aristocratic manner, was the main influence on him. Throughout his life he was private and withdrawn, always shunning publicity. His education included brief study in Switzerland and at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University. He gained a footing in mechanical engineering but did not complete his final year and failed to graduate with the class of 1904....

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Braniff, Thomas Elmer (06 December 1883–10 January 1954), airline executive, was born in Salina, Kansas, the son of John A. Braniff, a businessman, and Mary Catherine Baker. The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Tom and his younger brother, Paul, enrolled in public school. The Braniffs left for the Southwest around the turn of the century, when the Oklahoma Territory opened up under the Homestead Act. Braniff’s father started an insurance business, with rural homesteaders as his clients. As a teenager, Tom hit the road for his father, driving a buckboard through the dusty trails of western Oklahoma’s “Indian Country.”...

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Breech, Ernest Robert (24 February 1897–03 July 1978), automobile and aviation executive, was born in Lebanon, Missouri, the son of Joseph F. E. Breech, a blacksmith, and Martha Atchley. Ernest gained early experience with mechanics by working with his older brother Earl in his father’s blacksmith shop, which specialized in making carriages. In high school he was a stellar football, basketball, and baseball athlete and was offered a try-out with the St. Louis Browns professional baseball team. But he had his sights set on studying law and distinguished himself as a speaker, winning a medal for oratory while in high school. After graduating in 1914, Breech had to defer college because of inadequate family financing. To earn money he worked as a salesman and mechanic in an automobile agency that his father had acquired, thus gaining his first exposure to the automobile industry. He won a scholarship to Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, which he entered in 1915. Despite a strong academic record, Breech left college after his sophomore year in 1917 and moved to Chicago, where his brother Earl had found work for him in the accounting department of Fairbanks, Morse & Company, manufacturers of scales and weighing equipment. He later supplemented the income from this job by working evenings and weekends at O’Connor and Goldberg’s State Street Store, the leading ladies’ shoe store in Chicago. Also in 1917 Breech married his childhood sweetheart, Thelma Rowden, in Chicago; the couple had two sons....

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Burnelli, Vincent Justus (22 November 1895–22 June 1964), aircraft designer, was born Vincent Justus Buranelli in Temple, Texas, the son of Vincent Justus Buranelli and Margaret Myers. His parents’ occupations are unknown, as is the reason for the changed spelling of his last name. Burnelli attended local schools in Temple; in Monterey, Mexico; and, after 1907, in the New York City area. He studied mechanical engineering for three years at St. Peter’s College in New Jersey but apparently did not earn a degree....

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Butler, Charles Wilfred (10 August 1911–03 December 1973), designer for the aerospace industry, was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of Wilfred Butler and Letitia Powell. Virtually nothing is known about his early life, and even retracing his professional career and personal life is somewhat difficult. He attended classes in architecture and design at various times in Philadelphia, particularly at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Design (later Philadelphia College of Art), where he studied in the mid-1930s with well-known designer Alexey Brodovitch. Butler worked briefly for the Jentner Exhibits Corporation and was a consultant to the Board of Design of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. After brief service in the navy during the earlier part of World War II, he worked for the transportation division of ...