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James McDonnell

Pioneer Builder of One of the
World's Largest Aerospace Companies

James Smith McDonnell was one of the last of America's aviation pioneers. From virtually nothing, he built one of the world's largest aerospace companies. ■ He founded the McDonnell Aircraft Company in St. Louis in 1939 with 12 employees. It was his fighter planes that made the U.S. a power to be reckoned with. His firm manufactured 5,000 F4 Phantom jet fighter planes. In 1967 the McDonnell company merged with a company owned by Donald Douglas. The new McDonnell Douglas Corporation employed 70,000 workers. ■ Born in Denver on April 7, 1899, McDonnell was graduated from Princeton University in 1921 with a degree in physics. He took advanced work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a master's degree in aeronautical engineering. ■ He was proud of his Scottish ancestry, which he traced to James McDonnell of Glengarry, born in Scotland in 1745. This ancestor went to Ulster, then moved to Alabama, where he died in 1829. Archibald McDonnell, a grandson of the original immigrant, was the grandfather of James Smith McDonnell. ■ William Allen, chairman of Boeing Aircraft, termed "Mac" a tough businessman. "He was a Scotsman, very shrewd, and a hard trader." McDonnell ruled his aerospace kingdom with an iron hand. He made most of the decisions and drove himself hard day and night to implement them. He was proud that his company's Gemini and Mercury space capsules had helped put the first Americans into space. ■ In spite of his manufacture of war planes, McDonnell was a strong supporter of peace. Every October 24, United Nations Day, he gave his employees a paid holiday. He died on August 22, 1980, at his home in suburban St. Louis.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546