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Donald W. Douglas.

Donald W. Douglas.

Donald Douglas

Donald Wills Douglas was one of the most famous aircraft builders in the history of aviation. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1892. Although he was personally not a pilot, he had been fascinated with flight after he saw Orville Wright fly a plane in 1909. He graduated from MIT, the nation's top engineering school, in 1914.

In 1915, Douglas moved to California to work briefly for aircraft builder Glenn Martin before becoming the chief civilian aeronautical engineer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After World War II, in 1920, Douglas joined forces with sportsman David R. Davis to establish the Davis-Douglas Aircraft Company. After a failed attempt to build a prize-winning airplane, Davis withdrew from the company, which was reincorporated as Douglas Aircraft Company.

Douglas' new company steadily grew stronger, building planes for the army air corps, the army, and the U.S. Post Office in the 1920s. Douglas earned a reputation as a master aircraft builder and attracted the best talent in the country. In the 1930s, Douglas began work on the famous DC series of transport and passenger planes, including the DC-3 that revolutionized air travel. Douglas' reputation was so great that Fortune magazine wrote in 1941 that "the development of the airplane in the days between the wars is the greatest engineering story there ever was, and in the heart of it is Donald Douglas."

After helping his company play a critical role in the war effort, Douglas shifted his focus to commercial aviation and missiles and space in the 1950s and 1960s. When Boeing gained dominance in the commercial aviation market, Douglas lost its big market share. In 1967, Douglas merged his company with St. Louis-based McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. Douglas decided to retire at the time although he remained honorary chairman of McDonnell-Douglas. He continued to be active in the aerospace sector after his retirement, receiving many honors from across the world. He died on February 1, 1981, at the age of 88. His ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.