Antoine de Saint Exupery
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Donald Douglas' first love was not flying, but sailing. Douglas, the son of a Scottish bank clerk, had been attending the U. S. Naval Academy for three years before deciding to transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) to become an aeronautical engineer. Douglas' interest in aviation was first sparked by the Wright Brothers. He became hooked after watching Orville Wright's 1908 demonstration of the Wright Flyer for Army officials in Ft. Myer, Virginia. After transferring, Douglas completed M.I.T.'s four-year course in only two years. At the age of 20, Douglas was one of the first - and youngest - aeronautical engineers in America.
After six years working for various aircraft manufacturers, including Glenn Martin, the ambitious, young Douglas decided to start his own company. In 1920 with only $600 to his name, he moved his family to a place where the weather made flying possible year-round, Southern California.
Douglas was looking for a way to make his dream of an aircraft company come true when he met a wealthy playboy named David R. Davis. Davis wanted to make a name for himself by becoming the first to fly non-stop across the United States. Douglas drew up plans for a plane called the Cloudster and convinced Davis to put up the $40,000 necessary to build it.
As soon as the plane was completed, Davis attempted his cross-country flight. Unfortunately, the Cloudster experienced engine trouble over Texas, and Davis was forced to end his cross-country attempt. Although it failed its intended mission, the Cloudster was successful in becoming the first plane able to carry a payload exceeding its own weight. The military was so impressed by Douglas' design for the Cloudster that Douglas' new company soon was building torpedo bombers for the Navy. Douglas Aircraft was up and running.
Over the next several decades, Douglas saw his company become a world leader in the production of commercial and military planes. His most successful commercial airliner was the DC-3. Introduced in 1936, the DC-3 is considered by many to be the birth of the modern airliner. Fast, luxurious and dependable, the DC-3 offered roomy seating, men and women's lavatories, and sleeping accommodations for as many as 14 passengers. Passengers flocked in droves to airlines using the new Douglas plane. By 1939, more than 90 percent of passengers were flying on the DC-3, or its predecessor the DC-2.
Douglas remained president of the Douglas Aircraft Company until 1957 when he passed day-to-day operations over to his son. Douglas continued as chairman of the board until 1967 when his company merged with McDonnell Aircraft to become the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Douglas needed to merge in order to avoid bankruptcy. The company had faced severe financial hardships from the years it spent developing the DC-8 and DC-9 to compete with Boeing's new jetliners. Douglas remained honorary chairman of McDonnell Douglas until his death in 1981.