The Early Years: 1927-1938

J.S. McDonnell & Associates ... Fledgling Flounders

I was too much of a practicing Scotsman to use the parachute. I still had my motor left and most of my ship. If I had jumped, I would have had nothing.
-- James S. McDonnell, 1929

James Smith McDonnell graduated from Little Rock High School in Arkansas as World War I began. He joined the Army and served as a private. After the war, McDonnell went to Princeton to get his bachelor of science in physics, before studying aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While a student, McDonnell also enrolled in the Commissioned Reserve of the Army Air Service to become a qualified pilot and earned his wings in 1924. At the same time, McDonnell found work as an aeronautical engineer and pilot for the Huff Daland Airplane Co. in Ogdensburg, N.Y.

After earning his Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from MIT in 1925, McDonnell accepted the position of assistant chief engineer with Henry Ford's Aviation Division of the Ford Motor Co., where he helped design the durable Ford TriMotor "Tin Goose." In 1926, he became chief engineer with the Hamilton Aero Manufacturing Co., but left it in 1928 to establish J.S. McDonnell & Associates -- operating out of the Hamilton factory in Milwaukee, Wis. In 1929, Hamilton became part of the United Aircraft and Transport Corp. owned by Boeing.

McDonnell flew the first airplane he designed and built, the Doodlebug, on Nov. 15, 1929. McDonnell wanted to enter this two-place monoplane in the Daniel Guggenheim Safe Aircraft Competition and win $100,000. He dreamed of selling personal airplanes to every family in America, the way Henry Ford sold his cars. Unfortunately, the horizontal tail of the Doodlebug folded, and it crashed. McDonnell rode the airplane to the ground and suffered severe damage to his back, and all his hopes of winning were dashed.

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