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Colley, Russell (22 July 1897–04 February 1996), inventor, designer, and aeronautical engineer, was born Russell Sidney Colley in Stoneham, Mass., the son of Frank S. Colley, a druggist, and Florence Vesta Hopkins Colley. Russell spent several summers in high school serving as an apprentice electrician. After he revealed his desire to become a women's fashion designer, his art teacher directed him out of her freehand drawing class into what she considered more appropriate, a mechanical drawing class. He was accepted into Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1918 completed the two-year machine construction and tool design course....

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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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Gorrell, Edgar Staley (03 February 1891–05 March 1945), aviator and industrialist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Charles Edgar Gorrell, a carpenter, and Pamelia Smith. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1908, graduating in 1912 with a commission as a second lieutenant of infantry. In 1915 he attended the army’s Signal Corps Aviation School in Coronado, California, where he became a pilot. While serving with the First Aero Squadron during the Mexican Punitive Operation in 1916, he came to the attention of Brigadier General ...

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Lear, William Powell (26 June 1902–15 May 1978), electrical engineer and aeronautical entrepreneur, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, the son of Reuben Lear, a carpenter and teamster, and Gertrude Powell. His parents separated when Lear was six, and his mother married a plasterer in Chicago. The family’s meager income represented a lifelong goad to Lear to become financially secure. After finishing the eighth grade, he left school and found work as a mechanic. At age sixteen Lear decided to leave home and enter military service. Lying about his age, he signed up in 1918 with the navy and was posted to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he was trained in radio technology. After the armistice, he found employment with a succession of electrical and radio businesses and developed several technical improvements while gaining valuable experience in a rapidly developing industry. During the early 1920s he built and patented the first practical radio for autos but lacked financial support to go into production and sold the design to Motorola in 1924....

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Ley, Willy (02 October 1906–24 June 1969), science journalist and spaceflight publicist, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Julius Otto Ley, a wine merchant, and Frida May. Educated in primary and secondary schools in Berlin, he studied paleontology, physics, and astronomy at the Universities of Berlin and Königsburg. While he did not obtain a degree, Ley developed a broad command of the sciences and became fluent in a variety of languages....

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Link, Edwin Albert, Jr. (26 July 1904–07 September 1981), inventor and businessman, was born in Huntington, Indiana, the youngest son of Edwin Albert Link, Sr., and Katherine Martin. In 1910 the family moved to Binghamton, New York, when Link’s father purchased the bankrupt Binghamton Automatic Music Corporation. Renamed the Link Piano and Organ Company, the firm established a reputation for manufacturing theater organs, player pianos, and nickelodeons. Because he was less interested in academics than in tinkering with mechanical devices, Link’s educational record was erratic. He spent a brief time at the Rockford Training High School (Ill.), Los Angeles Polytechnic High School, Bellefonte Academy (Pa.), and Lindsley Institute (W.Va.). In 1922 he returned to Binghamton and entered Central High School. He also worked for his father’s company, where he rebuilt and repaired organs....

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Lockheed, Malcolm (1887–13 August 1958), aircraft engineer and inventor, was born Malcolm Loughead in Niles, California, the son of John Loughead, a hardware store owner, and Flora Haines, a fruit grower and writer. (He later started using a phonetic spelling of his Scottish name, which people had persisted in pronouncing “log-head” or “loaf-head.”) His mother, long separated from her husband, was a college graduate and a former schoolteacher who supported her family by growing and marketing fruit and writing feature articles for the ...

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Piccard, Jean Félix (28 January 1884–28 January 1963), aeronautical engineer and chemist noted for his stratospheric balloon flights, was born in Basel, Switzerland. He and his twin brother, Auguste Piccard, were the sons of Jules Piccard, a chemist, and Hélène Haltenhoff. Their careers and activities were joined, although for much of their lives they were thousands of miles apart. They both enjoyed an excellent education, graduating from the Obere Realschule in 1902 and attending the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich, one of the best universities in the country. Their father, a professor of chemistry and head of the department at the University of Basel, had no difficulty ensuring their attendance at this school. They graduated in 1907, Jean with a degree in chemical engineering, and both went on to graduate work at the institute, where in 1909 they received doctorates; Jean’s was in organic chemistry....

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Ride, Sally K. (26 May 1951–23 July 2012), astronaut, physicist, and science educator, was born Sally Kristen Ride in Los Angeles, California, the elder child of Joyce and Dale B. Ride. Dale, a World War II veteran, taught high school social studies before teaching political science at Santa Monica Community College. Joyce worked briefly at UCLA and volunteered for decades for women’s prison reform. Ride’s younger sister, Karen, whom Sally called “Bear” (a nickname that stuck permanently), grew up to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. Ride attributed her self-contained disposition to her mother’s Norwegian heritage and her introverted family....

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Schroeder, Rudolph William (14 August 1886–29 December 1952), aviation and flight safety pioneer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John August Schroeder and Nora Ann Reidy. Little is known of his early life beyond the facts that he attended Crane Technical High School in Chicago and that his father died before Schroeder completed school. He then went to work in a garage as an automobile mechanic. One of the other mechanics, Otto Brodie, learned to fly an airplane, and Schroeder became his mechanic about 1910. For several years, Schroeder toured the country, working with a number of early aviators....

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Warner, Edward Pearson (09 November 1894–12 July 1958), aeronautical engineer and aviation consultant, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Lyon Warner, an electrical engineer, and Ann Pearson. Warner was raised in a professional environment—his father had been educated at Cornell—and attended the elite Volkmann School in Boston after his father accepted a position in Cambridge. Early in his education, Warner displayed a remarkable aptitude for mathematics, and since he was interested in aviation he turned his attention to solving the problems of flight. In 1911 he and a friend won a soaring competition in Boston, Warner designing the glider and his friend piloting it. Warner attended Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in engineering with honors in 1916. He then pursued additional work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning a B.S. and then an M.A. in 1919....

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See Wright, Wilbur

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Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright. Orville in the center, Wilbur in back, with Charles Rolls at the wheel of his Rolls-Royce and a chauffeur, at Shellbeach, England. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92097).

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Wright, Wilbur (16 April 1867–30 May 1912), and Orville Wright (19 August 1871–30 January 1948), inventors of the airplane, were born, respectively, near Millville, Indiana, and in Dayton, Ohio, the sons of Milton Wright, a clergyman, and Susan Catherine Koerner. Their father, who rose from circuit preacher to bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and their mother presided over a loving home where children were encouraged to think for themselves and support one another. “From the time we were little children,” Wilbur remarked just before his death, “my brother Orville and myself lived together, played together, worked together, and in fact, thought together… . nearly everything that was done in our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions and discussions between us.”...