The Spirit of Santa Monica
Between 1920 and 1975, Donald Douglas’ company—and a southern California city—helped shape aviation history.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, April 2012
Courtesy Bill Wasserzieher
Douglas worked initially at the Connecticut Aircraft Company, helping to design a dirigible for the U.S. Navy. In 1915 he joined the Glenn Martin Company in Los Angeles as chief engineer, and the following year accepted a position as chief U.S. civilian aeronautical engineer with the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
After World War I, Douglas returned to Southern California with the dream of starting his own aircraft manufacturing company. He arrived in March 1920 and soon met a wealthy Los Angeles sportsman named David R. Davis, who wanted to become the first pilot to fly nonstop across the United States. Douglas drafted plans for an airplane he called the Cloudster, and convinced Davis to put up the $40,000 needed to build it. At the time, Douglas is said to have had only $600 in his personal savings.
And so the Douglas Aircraft Company began, with Douglas famously renting the back room of a barber shop on Pico Boulevard for what would be his engineering department.
The photograph above shows the original site of the new Davis-Douglas aircraft assembly plant in Santa Monica, circa 1920.