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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 ...

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Chamberlin, Clarence Duncan (11 November 1893–31 October 1976), aviation pioneer and aircraft industry executive, was born in Denison, Iowa, the son of Elzie Clarence Chamberlin and Jessie Duncan, watchmakers and mechanics. He worked for his parents in their shop and proved adept at engineering and mechanics. Able to carry on his education after most other men in his age group at Denison had entered the workforce, Chamberlin attended Normal and Business College in Denison, graduating in 1911, and Iowa State College, graduating with a B.S. in engineering in 1914. Not long after automobiles made an appearance in Denison, in 1912 he took time off from school to open his own automotive sales and repair business. He ran this business and continued his studies until he graduated from Iowa State College....

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Coffin, Howard Earle (06 September 1873–21 November 1937), automotive engineer and airline pioneer, was born near West Milton, Ohio, the son of Julius Vestal Coffin and Sarah Elma Jones, farmers. In 1893 Coffin enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where his mother ran a boardinghouse, but dropped out in 1896 to take a job with the Ann Arbor post office. He was allowed to conduct experiments at the university’s engineering shops, however, and built a one-cylinder gasoline engine and a steam-powered car, which he drove on his mail route....

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Crown, Henry (13 June 1896–14 August 1990), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born Henry Krinsky in Chicago, the son of Arie Krinsky, a Lithuanian immigrant garment worker, and his wife Ida Gordon. At some point they changed their name to Crown. To help his poor family, Crown took a job at age fourteen as clerk at the Chicago Firebrick Company. In 1912 he began work at the Union Drop Forge Company, while taking night courses in accounting. In 1915 he and his two older brothers, Sol and Irving, formed a small steel-brokerage company, S. A. Crown and Company, and Crown quickly established a local reputation as an aggressive and reliable deal maker with a discerning eye for opportunity, a striking power of recall, and an acute sense of timing....

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Glenn H. Curtiss. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106325).

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Curtiss, Glenn Hammond (21 May 1878–23 July 1930), aeronautical inventor and manufacturer, was born in Hammondsport, New York, the son of Frank R. Curtiss, the owner of a harness shop, and Lua Andrews. After the death of his father in 1883, Curtiss was raised by his mother and his strong-willed grandmother Ruth Curtiss in the bucolic Finger Lake region of western New York. After graduating from the eighth grade in 1892, Curtiss secured a job stenciling numbers on the backing of photographic film for the Eastman Dry Plant and Film Company (later Eastman Kodak Company) of Rochester. The next year he purchased a bicycle and found employment as a messenger for Western Union....

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Damon, Ralph Shepard (06 July 1897–04 January 1956), airline executive, was born in Franklin, New Hampshire, the son of William Cotton Damon, a successful businessman, and Effie Ives. Damon earned a B.A. from Harvard University in 1918. He had planned to become an astronomer, but World War I first interrupted and then changed his plans. In the summer of 1918 he entered the U.S. Army Air Service and trained as a pilot. Although he saw no action in the war, when Damon mustered out of service in 1919 he sought employment in the infant aviation industry. Unsuccessful for a time, he worked in the construction industry. In 1922 he married Harriet Dudley Holcombe, and they eventually had four children....

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de Seversky, Alexander Procofieff (07 June 1894–24 August 1974), aircraft designer and influential air-power advocate, was born in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia (then part of imperial Russia), the son of Nicholas Procofieff-Seversky, a pioneer Russian sportsman-pilot, and Vera Vasilieff. A 1914 graduate of the Imperial Naval Academy of Russia, he attended the Military School of Aeronautics. In July 1915 on his first combat mission in World War I, de Seversky was shot down over the Gulf of Riga on a bombing mission, losing his right leg....

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Doole, George Arntzen (12 August 1909–08 March 1985), airline executive, was born in Quincy, Illinois, the son of George Andrew Doole, a banker, and Naomi Arntzen. Educated in local schools, Doole graduated from the University of Illinois in 1931 with a B.S. in business administration. A member of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he rode with the elite cavalry unit while in college and won a jumping prize. Following graduation, Doole later recalled, he had two job choices, either work in his father’s bank or join the military. He chose the military....