The First U.S. Aircraft Manufacturing Companies

From the US Centennial of Flight

Gallaudet DB-1

The Gallaudet DB-1, built in the early 1920s, was designed as a day bomber but the aircraft never advanced past the design stage.

Burgess Dunne

The Burgess-Dunne was built by Burgess under license. Burgess fitted a tailless biplane designed by John Dunne in England with central floats. One of these planes became Canada’s first military aircraft, and the U.S. Navy purchased several as the AH-7 in 1914.

Burgess plane with pontoons

Burgess fitted some of the Wright planes with pontoons.

Martin prototype fighter

Glenn Martin and his prototype fighter aircraft.

Glenn Martin MB-1

The Martin MB-1 or Glenn Martin Bomber was the first U.S.-designed bomber procured by the U.S. Army in quantity in the World War I era.

Early Thomas-Morse Scout

An early model Thomas Morse Scout. The upper wing has dihedral.

Thomas-Morse S-4

The first Thomas-Morse airplane-the S-4 single-seat biplane.

Thomas-Morse S-5

Thomas-Morse S-5 powered with rotary engine.

M-8 fighter

The M-8 fighter was based on a design by Grover Loening.

First B&W plane

The first B&W was completed in June 1916.

Red Barn

This former shipyard was the first home of The Boeing Company, which was founded in 1916. It was called the Red Barn.

Model G

The Loughead brothers charged tourists $10 for a 10-minute ride over San Francisco Bay in their Model G.

Curtiss HS-2L

After World War I, the Lockheed Company survived by Building Curtiss HS-2L flying boats for the U.S. Navy.


The Loughead brothers in their F-1 flying boat, 1918. Malcolm is on the left, Allan on the right

The second decade of the twentieth century marked the beginning of the U.S. aircraft industry. Growth was slow though and companies remained small until the United States started supporting the needs generated by World War I. The war provided the impetus for the creation of several fledgling companies and the growth of already-existing companies.


The honor
of organizing the first aircraft factory in the United States may
belong to Edson Gallaudet, who, in 1908, organized the first aircraft
engineering office, which the modern General Dynamics
Corporation claims as its ancestor. In 1910, he established Gallaudet
Engineering Company to build planes under contract. He reorganized as
the Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation in 1917. Its first mass production
craft was the 1918 production of Curtiss floatplanes. The DB-1 and
DB-1B, built after the war and planned as day bombers, never reached
the production stage. The company was sold to Major Reuben Fleet of the
newly formed Consolidated Aircraft in 1923.


The Burgess
Company (originally called Burgess Company and Curtis, Inc.—after
Greely S. Curtis) was the first licensed aircraft manufacturer in the
United States. On February 1, 1911, it received authorization to build
Wright aircraft in the United States. Burgess fitted some Wright planes
with pontoons, proceeding to run afoul of Wright’s patent rules, which permitted only exact copies of Wright aircraft.

The company provided seaplanes and other aircraft to the military. The first tractor
biplane procured by the U.S. military was a Burgess H. In September
1913, a Burgess seaplane was delivered to the Signal Corps in the
Philippines where it was used in its flying school. A Burgess-Wright
biplane was used in December 1914 to demonstrate air-to-ground radio

When Curtis withdrew his interest in 1914, the company was renamed the Burgess Company. Burgess merged into the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company (begun by Glenn Curtiss) in 1916, and Curtiss acquired all Burgess stock.

Thomas Brothers

The company
founded by William T. and Oliver W. Thomas made a major contribution
to the war effort. Born and educated in England, the brothers moved
to Hammondsport, New York, and founded the Thomas Brothers Company
in November 1909. In 1912, they incorporated the Thomas Brothers
Aeroplane Company in Bath, New York, and began manufacturing aircraft.

The company
moved to Ithaca, New York, at the end of the 1914, where it built
24 Thomas T-2 biplanes for the Royal Naval Air Service and 15 similar
aircraft with floats instead of wheeled landing gear, designated
the SH-4, for the U.S. Navy in 1915 and 1916. The company also built
two two-seat, open-cockpit biplanes designated the D-5 for evaluation
by the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

On January
31, 1917, the need for a larger plant and more capital led Thomas
Brothers to merge with the Morse Chain Company and form the
Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation. The new company trained many U.S.
and Canadian fliers and developed new planes including the compact
Thomas Morse S-4 single-seat advanced trainer. The company produced
almost 600 S-4s with either Gnome or Le Rhone rotary engines and a model with twin floats, the S-5, for the Navy.

then began to design fighter aircraft—the MB-1, 2, and 3 biplane. The
MB-3, powered by a 300-horsepower (224-kilowatt) Wright-Hispano engine,
was considered the most capable. After evaluation of two MB-3
prototypes, the company built 50 production aircraft. Boeing built 200
improved MB-3As for Thomas-Morse, some which were converted later to
advanced trainers and designated MB-3M. One MB-3 was converted for use
as a racing aircraft with the designation MB-6. During this time, the
company’s workforce reached more than 1,200 employees, and it became
one of the leading manufacturers in the country.


The industry
pioneer Grover Loening was the first person to earn a degree in
aeronautical engineering, graduating from Columbia University in
1910. He joined the Wright Company in 1913, but frustrated by Orville
Wright’s leadership style, left to become chief aeronautical engineer
for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in San Diego, California. He improved
the Curtiss and Wright training planes and persuaded Glenn
to develop a trainer for the Navy that would be the source
of Martin’s success.

helped organize and manage the new Sturtevant Aircraft Company, formed
in July 1915, and developed some original designs. When the war began,
he launched Loening Aeronautical, primarily focused on naval aviation.
His first design, the Kitten, was intended as a naval scout airplane but turned into the M-8, one of the first U.S. fighters.


New York
businessman Inglis M. Uppercu founded the Aeromarine Plane and Motor
Company in New Jersey in March 1914. Initially the Boland Aeroplane
Company, Uppercu renamed the firm Aeromarine when Boland died in a
crash and his widow sold Uppercu control. Uppercu developed the Boland
designs and later contributed to the flying-boat field. A military
order enabled Aeromarine to begin mass production. Aeromarine employed
900 employees at the war’s peak, and produced some 300 aircraft during
the war.

Glenn Martin

Martin was one of the most successful aircraft pioneers. He began his
aviation career in Santa Ana, California, building his first successful
plane in 1909 and performing as the “Flying Dude.”

In 1911,
Martin organized the Glenn L. Martin Company, which was officially
established on August 16, 1912. He moved to Los Angeles where he beat
out competitors Wright and Curtiss to win orders for his Model TT
tractor-engine trainer from the U.S. Signal Corps and delivered 17
military trainers in 1914. In 1915, Martin hired Donald Douglas, who
would soon start his own successful aircraft company, as chief engineer.

On August 7, 1916, the Wright Company
approached Martin about merging. Martin accepted the offer, and in
September 1916, the Wright-Martin Aircraft Company was formed. But
Martin was unhappy with the company, and after a short time, left it
and established the second Glenn L. Martin Company on September 10,
1917, at Cleveland, Ohio, rejoined by Douglas.

Toward the end of World War I, the Army asked Martin to develop a bomber aircraft that would be superior to the Handley Page 0/400,
His MB-1 met the requirements, and Martin received an initial order for
50 Martin MB-1 bombers on January 17, 1918, reduced to 10 planes when
the war ended. This was the first of the large bombers that would
distinguish Martin’s career as an aircraft manufacturer.

L-W-F Company

The L-W-F
Company was founded in December 1915. The company was named after its
founders, Edward Lowe, Jr., Charles Willard, and Robert Fowler, and
some think also for the laminated wood fuselage it developed. L-W-F
pioneered the monocoque fuselage in the United States, a major improvement over earlier open fuselages.


The Boeing Company
would be the most successful company to get its start in the World War
I era. William Boeing began in the lumber business in Seattle in 1903.
On July 4, 1914, Bill and his friend Navy Lieutenant Conrad Westervelt
had their first plane ride—on a rickety structure piloted by a
barnstormer. The ride convinced the two that they could build a better
plane. Boeing took flying lessons and bought his own Martin plane. The
two built their first plane—a seaplane called the B&W—and Boeing
formed his own company, Pacific Aero Products Company, soon to become
the Boeing Airplane Company. It would grow to be one of the most
successful U.S. companies in history.

Loughead (Lockheed)

The Loughead
brothers, Allan and Malcolm, also would build a giant of the industry
after several false starts in the early days of aviation. Two early
flying enthusiasts, the brothers formed their first company, the Alco
Hydro-Aeroplane Company, in 1912. They couldn’t find a customer for
their first plane, the Model G floatplane, but didn’t give up. Moving
to San Francisco, they formed the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing
Company in 1916. Their first effort was the 10-passenger F-1 seaplane,
which debuted on March 29, 1918. It was an instant success, but the end
of the war destroyed their market. The business survived for a while by
building two Curtiss HS-2L flying boats and by working as a
subcontractor. Nevertheless, the company went bankrupt in 1921.

Of these
early companies, most would disappear, either leaving the business
completely or being subsumed by other companies. However, a few would
grow to become giants in the industry.

—Judy Rumerman


Bilstein, Roger. The American Aerospace Industry – From Workshop to Global Enterprise. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Boyne, Walter J. The Smithsonian Book of Flight. New York: Wing Books, 1987.

Cunningham, William Glenn. The Aircraft Industry: A Study in Industrial Location. Los Angeles: Lorrin L. Morrison, 1951.

Mondey, David, general editor. The International Encyclopedia of Aviation. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1977.

Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope – The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998 and 2000.

Rodgers, Eugene. Flying High. The Story of Boeing and the Rise of the Jetliner Industry. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.

Serling, Robert J. Legend and Legacy; The Story of Boeing and Its People. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Yenne, Bill. Legends of Flight. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, Ltd., 1999.

On-Line References:

“Boeing: The Beginnings: 1903-1938.”

“Early Martin Planes.”

The Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum.