The Spirit of Santa Monica

Between 1920 and 1975, Donald Douglas’ company—and a southern California city—helped shape aviation history.

(Courtesy Bill Wasserzieher)

His name is synonymous with transport aircraft, and Donald Wills Douglas built some beauties: the 12-passenger, all-metal DC-1; the DC-2, for which Douglas was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1935; and the DC-3, the aircraft that made commercial air travel popular—and profitable. But the engineering genius was also known for his love of the arts, and for idiosyncracies like playing bagpipes around the office, in honor of his Scottish heritage.

Forty-five years ago this month, Douglas Aircraft Company and McDonnell Aircraft merged to form McDonnell Douglas (which many years later merged with Boeing). In recognition of the Douglas Aircraft Company and the many men and women who worked there, the Douglas White Oaks Ranch Trust has published Douglas: The Santa Monica Years. See the gallery above for more photos from the book. All images and text used by permission.

Above, a Pacific Northern Airlines (later Western Airlines) DC-3 flies over snow-capped peaks.

Douglas Aircraft Company

(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.

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