Thursday, 17 May 2007

Glenn L. Martin 1886-1955

At the time he taught himself to fly in 1909 and 1910, Glenn Luther Martin was a youthful businessman, the owner (at age 22) of Ford and Maxwell dealerships in Santa Ana, California. Although he had taken courses at Kansas Wesleyan Business College before his family moved west in 1905, Martin lacked a technical background. His first planes were built in collaboration with mechanics from his auto shop, working in a disused church building that Martin rented. In 1909 Martin made his first successful flight; by 1911 he numbered among the most famous of the "pioneer birdmen." Never forgetting his original business training, Martin was not content with simply performing. In 1912, he set up as a manufacturer, incorporating his operation as the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company. Unlike the companies launched by the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss, which soon came to be managed by people other than their namesakes, the Martin Company remained for forty years under the direct control of its founder. During these four critical decades Glenn Martin was the senior aircraft manufacturer in the United States.

From the early years of the company, Martin hired trained engineers to design his planes and talented managers to run his factories. The Martin Company provided training and experience to a remarkable number of other aviation manufacturers who later struck out on their own. William Boeing, Donald Douglas, Lawrence Bell, and James S. McDonnell founded companies that bear their names. Charles Day, chief designer for Standard Aircraft in World War I, and Charles Willard, co-founder of L.W.F. Engineering in 1917, were both former Martin employees as were J.H. Kindleberger and C.A. Van Dusen, who ran North American and Brewster, respectively, during World War II.

Glenn Martin had a taste for large planes, and his company came to depend on military orders. As these pages will testify, this meant bombers. The vast majority of the more than 11,000 planes built by the company before it ceased producing aircraft in 1960, "Martin Bombers" pioneered the doctrine of airpower in the 1920's and '30's and served in all theaters in World War II. Martin Marietta, corporate successor to the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company, continued to be a major defense contractor, producing missiles, space hardware, guidance systems, sonar, and avionics. Through its merger with Lockheed in 1995, it rejoined the ranks of aircraft builders.