The Early Years: 1927-1938

Douglas Aircraft Co. ... In Clover Field

California has long been a place where I wanted to live ... because I have felt that if there is to be any civilian aeronautics, it will be there that it will first attain real success.
-- Donald Douglas, 1920

By 1926 Douglas was producing 120 aircraft a year. Only four years earlier, his company had delivered only six. With production increasing at this rate, Douglas needed to expand his facilities and began to build a new plant in Santa Monica, Calif., adjacent to the Clover Field runway. Until the building was finished, Douglas aircraft were towed a mile to the tarmac.

With contracts for 246 Liberty-engined O-2 observation planes, the company also ventured into light aircraft with the Douglas Commuter, finished in January 1926. Its wings could be folded flat so it could be stored in a garage, but it found no market.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 30, 1928, Douglas incorporated his business as the Douglas Aircraft Co. Inc. and moved to the completed building in Santa Monica in 1929. By 1930, Douglas stock was among the highest valued in the industry.

In its new facilities, the Douglas Aircraft Co. continued to make observation biplanes and built its first twin-engine aircraft, the T2D-1 torpedo bomber. It also started to design a small commercial amphibian, the Sinbad. This luxurious transport found no market during the Depression, but led to the successful military Dolphin, which became the best known of all the Douglas-built amphibians and helped the company survive the hard times.

Jack Northrop, who had left Douglas in 1927 for Lockheed Aircraft to design the famous Vega single-engined transport, returned in 1932 to run a majority-owned subsidiary. There he produced the next in the single-engine transport series, the Gamma in 1932, and the Delta in 1933. The Gamma broke speed records, became a flying laboratory and made an epic flight across the Antarctic.

Douglas engineers also developed two gull-winged monoplanes: the XO-31 observation aircraft and the XB-7 bomber, followed by the successful O-46 straight-wing observation monoplane. These aircraft helped prepare the company to bid for the DC-1 transport that would launch Douglas into commercial aviation.

Previous narrative | Next narrative