Eddie Rickenbacker was born October 8, 1890,
in Columbus, Ohio. With little formal schooling and a succession
of jobs behind him, he began working for a railroad car-manufacturing
firm in 1905. There he developed a deep interest in internal-combustion
engines and engine-powered vehicles. He began driving racing
cars at sixteen (he became a regular at the Indianapolis 500
from its first year, 1911). By the time the United States entered
World War I, he was Internationally famous as a daredevil speed
driver and held a world speed record of 134 miles per hour.
In 1917 he enlisted in the Army and went to France as a member of General
John J. Pershing's motor car staff. With help from Colonel William Mitchell,
he secured a transfer to the Air Service in August, took pilot's training, and
early in 1918 was assigned to the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron with the rank of
Captain. The 94th, which adopted the famous hat-in-the-ring insignia, was the
first U.S. flying unit to participate actively at the front, fighting the "flying
circus" which was commanded by the German ace, Baron Manfred von Ricthofen.
In May, 1918, Rickenbacker was promoted to the temporary rank of Major, and by
the end of the war the 94th had downed 69 enemy craft, of which Rickenbacker,
the "ace of aces" accounted for 26 (22 airplanes, 4 observation balloons).
He earned every decoration possible, including the Medal of Honor, awarded in
1931 for his lone attack on seven German planes, two of which he downed, on September
His book, Fighting the Flying Circus, appeared in 1919. Returning to the United
States a hero, he organized in Detroit the Rickenbacker Motor Company. The company
was dissolved in 1926, and the next year he bought a controlling interest in
the Indianapolis Speedway, where he was president until 1945. He later worked
for the Cadillac division of General Motors Corporation and then was associated
with a number of aircraft manufacturers and airlines. In 1935 he became general
manager and vice president of Eastern Airlines. Three years later he became president
and director of the line.
His experience and technical knowledge prompted his appointment as special representative
of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, to inspect air bases in the Pacific theater
of war in 1942. In October 1942, on his second mission over the Pacific, his
B-17, crashed some 600 miles north of Samoa, and he and seven men (one of whom
died) were adrift on rubber rafts with only fish and rain water to sustain them.
After 23 days he was rescued, and after a two-week rest, he resumed his tour.
After the war he returned to Eastern Airlines, where he remained, from 1954 as
chairman of the board, until his retirement in 1963. He died in Zurich, Switzerland,
on July 23, 1973.