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Name:    McDonnell, James
Category:  Planning and Development
Born/Started:    1899
Died/Ended:    1980
Description:    James McDonnell was the founder of McDonnell Douglas Corporation and a leading philanthropist in the St. Louis area.

Raised in Little Rock, AR, McDonnell was enrolled at Princeton University and earned a Masters Degree in aeronautical engineering from MIT. He enlisted in the Army Air Service to learn how to fly. He was awarded his pilot´s wings at Brooks Field, Texas, and was one of six volunteers to make the first airplane parachute jump—leaping off the top wing of a DeHavilland bi-plane.

He moved St. Louis in 1939 and started in a small office in the old Lambert Airport Terminal. Initially McDonnell Aircraft worked as a subcontractor for established plane makers like Boeing and Douglas. In 1943, McDonnell´s big chance finally arrived—a contract to develop the world´s first carrier-based jet. The one-seat, twin-engine FH-1 Phantom became the first jet to take off and land on a U.S. carrier. McDonnell developed a series of the finest jet fighters in the world, with names like Phantom, Voodoo, and Banshee. At the same time, he plowed more than 80% of his company´s profits back into research and development.

By the late 50s, when NASA officials announced competitive bids for the first manned space capsule, McDonnell engineers already had one on the drawing boards. The Mercury Space program was an enormous victory for the St. Louis team. McDonnell Aircraft built John Glenn´s Friendship 7 and other Mercury and Gemini spacecraft that took the first American astronauts into outer space.

McDonnell Aircraft merged with Douglas Aircraft in 1967, which subsequently merged with Boeing in 1997.

McDonnell made a large grant to the planetarium in Forest Park that bears his name.

Saint Louis Portrait

Related Links
Boeing Website



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