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The Guggenheims, Aviation Visionaries - Nov. '96 Aviation History Feature

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1996 
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The Guggenheims
AVIATION VISIONARIES

Everyone flying today is a beneficiary of
this father-son team's vision and largesse.

By C.V. Glines

The names and contributions of the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss, Charles Lindbergh and James H. Doolittle are well known. But what about Daniel and Harry Guggenheim? Who were they–and what did they do for aviation? The answer is that they were a father and son who deserve to be remembered for their benevolence and foresight in using their great wealth to sponsor, guide and finance a number of different programs that greatly advanced the science of aeronautics in the late 1920s. Daniel was not a scientist and had never flown. He did not own an airplane. His son Harry had graduated from Navy pilot training, but he never had participated in any noteworthy flights. Nevertheless, everyone flying today, as passenger or crew member, is a beneficiary of their wisdom and vision.

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Daniel Guggenheim, small in stature and gifted with enormous foresight and business acumen, was the second of eight sons raised by Meyer Guggenheim. A Philadelphia businessman and financier, Meyer cut short Daniel's education and sent him to Switzerland to manage the family's manufacturing and merchandising firm at the age of 17.

Daniel returned to the States in 1884 at the age of 28 and took over another family enterprise, a mining and smelting business. The result was the accumulation of a large fortune. But Daniel's business sense was balanced by a strong awareness of his social responsibility, which resulted in a long list of philanthropic efforts that would include education, the arts, medical research and numerous charities.

Daniel had two sons, Meyer Robert and Harry Frank, both of whom served during World War I. Robert was not interested in aviation. But Harry, youngest of the two, was smitten with the flying bug after Navy flight training and service in France, England and Italy. He came home to a country that was badly outmatched in aviation development and had fallen far behind Europe in commercial aviation progress. America had failed to put a single American-designed, American-made aircraft into actual combat during the war.

Three thousand pilots and 15,000 aviation mechanics returned to the States to find an apathetic public unable to grasp the possibility of aviation as an instrument of national power. Airplanes were considered playthings that were romanticized in the pulp magazines. Only foolhardy barnstormers risked their necks in war-surplus machines at state fairs. Crashes and deaths were commonplace and expected; as a result, the public had little faith in the use of aircraft for personal travel. Pilots were considered, as one writer noted, "a fatalistic lot who scorned death, partied until dawn, and then took off bleary-eyed, disappearing into a sunrise, never to return."

The United States clearly was in the doldrums so far as aviation was concerned. By contrast, a year after the armistice, Britain and France were operating scheduled flights between London and Paris. The Germans had an all-metal transport 10 years before William Stout designed one for Henry Ford. The French had an internal airmail system that far outdistanced the United States' fledgling airmail service. Italy's Gianni Caproni had built a 100-passenger, eight-engine flying boat. And even the Russians, as far back as 1913, had a four-engine airliner designed by Igor Sikorsky that boasted an enclosed cockpit and passenger cabin, electric lights and a washroom.

In America, the airmail pilots and the barnstormers were the only representatives aviation had during the first half of the 1920s. Air transport was nonexistent; there was no motivation on the part of the public to travel by air. The Army and the Navy possessed mostly obsolete equipment left over from the war; manufacturers did not have the resources to develop new aircraft and were not encouraged to do so. And there were only a few voices that touted the potential of the airplane. One supporter was Billy Mitchell, who martyred himself out of the Army by his shocking statements about the sad state of American military aviation. At the same time, there were many headline-grabbing plane accidents that substantiated his views that not enough emphasis was being placed on aeronautical research and development.

The accidents and the publicity surrounding Mitchell's court-martial did have a beneficial effect. They led to the passage of the Contract Air Mail Act, better known as the Kelly Act of 1925, which encouraged private operators to carry the mail, rather than the U.S. Post Office Department. President Calvin Coolidge convened the Morrow Board, which investigated U.S. and civil aviation and made recommendations that led to the Air Commerce Act of 1926, legislation that established a Bureau of Civil Aeronautics to regulate civil air navigation, license pilots, inspect aircraft, establish and maintain air routes and navigation facilities, and promote the growth of civil air transport service.

It was at this point that the Guggenheims quietly stepped onto the national stage. Harry, after a trip to Europe in 1926, was deeply impressed with the postwar aeronautical work he observed there, and he became fiercely interested in promoting aviation in this country. He proposed the establishment of a school of aeronautics at New York University's College of Engineering. Also, he suggested that a campaign be launched among a group of wealthy individuals to raise $500,000 for the school's construction. He went before his father to practice an impassioned presentation that he intended to make to such a group. His father listened carefully. After thinking about what he had heard, the elder Guggenheim said he saw no need for his son to involve anyone else or to launch a fund campaign–he would provide the half million dollars.

On October 23, 1925, ground was broken for construction of the nation's first school of aeronautics at a major American college. In a letter to the university, Daniel Guggenheim stated that he saw the need for "placing aeronautics on the same educational plane that other branches of engineering enjoy….Aviation is capable of rendering such service to the nation's business and economic welfare, as well as to its defense, that universities should concern themselves with the education of highly trained engineers capable of building better and safer commercial aircraft."

At the groundbreaking ceremonies, Daniel said, "As I am an old man whose active days are past, I shall dedicate the rest of my life, with the aid of my son Harry F. Guggenheim, to the study and promotion of the science of aeronautics….Were I a younger man seeking a career in either science or commerce, I should unhesitatingly turn to aviation. I consider it the greatest road to opportunity which lies before the science and commerce of the civilized countries of the earth today."

One guiding realization motivated both Guggenheims. They believed that aviation's economic future lay in the development of commercial passenger transportation, but that such development would, in turn, depend on public acceptance of air travel as safe, practical and commercially profitable.

Although he did not announce it then, Daniel Guggenheim had decided to take an active leadership role and to do more than make a grant to one university. He would fund more schools of aeronautical engineering and help develop the industry that would absorb their graduates.

In a January 1926 letter to then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the senior Guggenheim announced the establishment of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. It would not be a permanent fund but one that would bring about such an advance in the art and science of aeronautics and aviation "that private enterprise will find it practicable and profitable to 'carry on,' and thus render a continuous and permanent endowment for this purpose unnecessary." The fund had an initial grant of $500,000 to which $2 million was later added, and was followed by a third grant of $500,000. It had four general purposes: To promote aeronautical education both in institutions of learning and among the general public.

To assist in the extension of fundamental aeronautical science.

To assist in the development of commercial aircraft and aircraft equipment.

To further the application of aircraft in business, industry, and other economic and social activities of the nation.

The fund was terminated in 1930 because Daniel Guggenheim believed it had accomplished its objectives. Major accomplishments had been made in all of the areas that could be grouped under the general headings of education, research, and air transportation.

In the field of education, the fund had made grants that established Guggenheim schools or research centers at the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, Georgia School (later Institute) of Technology, Harvard University, Syracuse University, Northwestern University, and the University of Akron.

The fund also had sponsored programs of aviation education in elementary and secondary schools, created two aeronautical documentation centers in France and Germany, and made a grant to the U.S. Library of Congress for an aeronautical research collection. Because of all these efforts, the Guggenheim Fund had a marked effect on the future of American aviation. It provided a comprehensive program of organized aviation education from the first year of grade school through the graduate level in major universities.

It was recognized from the start that adverse weather, chiefly fog and other low-visibility conditions, was the most severely limiting factor in all aircraft operations. The fund set up the Daniel Guggenheim Committee on Aeronautical Meteorology, which authorized a project to study everything from fog dissipation and penetration to improved navigation, including instruments that would give the pilot absolute information about the attitude of his aircraft in flight.

This effort sought to solve three major problems for aviation: point-to-point navigation in or above the clouds; maintaining a safe attitude for an aircraft by relying solely on its cockpit instruments; and providing ground facilities that would enable a pilot to land or take off in or near actual zero-visibility conditions. To coordinate these efforts, the Full Flight Laboratory was established by the fund at Mitchell Field, Long Island. The effort also involved bringing together advances in radio navigation made by the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Standards, plus progress made in gyro instruments, principally by Elmer Sperry, inventor of the directional gyrocompass and the artificial horizon. Paul Kollsman, developer of the sensitive altimeter, also was included.

Assigned to head this effort in 1928 was Army Lieutenant James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, famous by then for his stunt flying and record-setting. What many did not know at the time was that Doolittle was more than a daredevil racing and stunt pilot. He had earned a master's degree and a doctorate in engineering from MIT; hence, he was superbly and uniquely qualified to carry out the experiments.

Doolittle's role was to coordinate the logistics of the experiments, make suggestions for improvements, and do the actual flying. His catalytic influence and his more than 100 practice "blind" flights enabled him to make the technological leap for aviation that the Guggenheims had envisioned. He made the first takeoff, flight and landing completely by the use of instruments and without any visual reference outside his cockpit on September 24, 1929. It was a breakthrough of monumental proportions that signaled the end of the days of seat-of-the-pants flying.

Doolittle's feat led to later refinements and improvements by private industry that meant that weather need not be such a limiting factor after all. Instrument flying became routine for the airlines and military services within the next decade. The three basic instruments–the precision altimeter, sensitive to within 5 to 10 feet; the artificial horizon; and the directional gyro, all initially developed by the Guggenheim Fund's Full Flight Laboratory–gained universal acceptance and were considered essential in all subsequent aircraft intending to fly into foul weather.

Doolittle felt that his work with the Full Flight Laboratory was his most significant contribution to aviation. In the final annual report for the fund issued in 1930, the trustees noted that "any pilot who is not competent to fly by instruments alone has not yet finished his training."

Another indication of the farsightedness of the Guggenheims was the realization that aircraft landing speeds had to be reduced for increased safety. Harry had observed from accident reports that most crashes of the day were caused by stalling an aircraft at low altitudes. He proposed that the Fund organize a "safe plane" fly-off with prizes for aircraft having the lowest landing and stalling speeds, best control at low speeds, and the ability to take off and land in a confined space.

The Safe Aircraft Competition was established in 1927 "to achieve a real advance in the safety of flight through improvement in the aerodynamic characteristics of heavier-than-air craft without sacrificing the good practical qualities of present-day aircraft."

The incentive for manufacturers to enter the competition was a prize of $100,000, with five special prizes of $10,000 for safety given to the first five aircraft to meet minimum flying requirements. To qualify, aircraft had to prove their ability to maintain level, controlled flight at a speed no greater than 35 mph; demonstrate a power-off gliding speed of 38 mph or less; land over a 35-foot obstacle with no more than a 300-foot roll; and take off within 300 feet and clear a 35-foot obstacle located 500 feet from the starting point. Each aircraft had to prove it had a "hands off" stability at any throttle setting and at any airspeed from 45 to 100 mph for five minutes in gusty air.

The next two years saw 27 aircraft manufacturers announce tat they would enter the competition; 21 of them were U.S. companies. However, only 15 aircraft actually showed up for the tests, 14 American and one British. Three withdrew before flight testing began, two crashed during preliminary trials, and eight failed to meet any of the qualifying requirements. The only two aircraft to advance to the final competition were the British Handley Page HP 39 Gugnunc and the U.S. Curtiss Tanager. The latter won.

In the final report on the competition, the fund trustees summarized their conclusions. They stated that "the advantages of slots and flaps in lowering the minimum speed were clearly demonstrated." Chief historian of the Air Force, Richard P. Hallion, in his book about the Guggenheim contributions to aviation, stated that the major accomplishment of the competition was that "it formulated the requirements for the short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) aircraft long before many in the aeronautical community realized such a need existed."

Today's modern STOL airplane, with its many high-lift devices, began as a result of the Guggenheim competition of 1927-1929. The devices deemed worthy of further study included automatic leading edge slots, automatic or manually controlled flaps, "floating" ailerons that were extensions of a plane's wingtips, long-stroke oleo landing gear to absorb the impact of high landing loads, an adjustable stabilizer with an extreme range of settings that could be operated by the pilot, and brakes to reduce landing roll.

Hallion added, "Once again, well-spent Guggenheim money had helped generate a breakthrough by spurring research and development and by supporting full-scale in-flight demonstrations of new aircraft."

Another accomplishment that occurred solely by virtue of the Guggenheims' largesse, and which was to have a far-reaching result, was the creation of a "Model Airway" between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This helped convince the American public that commercial passenger service could be made safe, dependable and comfortable. (Actually, an airway had been created for military needs in 1922, but interest in it had died.) Daniel Guggenheim had frequently insisted that the fund should support experimentation to improve passenger service, but nothing had been done. The few passengers who flew at that time (an average of about 500 per year) were carried by airmail operators with the passengers sitting uncomfortably on top of the mailbags.

"We dodged the issue for a long while," Harry Guggenheim later recalled, "and tried vainly to satisfy him [Daniel G.] with the innumerable reasons why it could not be done. He flatly refused 'no' for an answer and his persistence and vision overcame all of our objections."

As a result of Daniel's demand for the fund to "do something," a meeting was called with the nation's leading contract airmail operators. Harry Guggenheim stated that equipment loans would be made to encourage them to get into the passenger-carrying business.

The fund would establish one or more "thoroughly organized" passenger routes with weather services and plane-to-ground communications. Under the terms of the loan agreement, an airline could borrow $155,000 from the fund for the purchase of aircraft, to be repaid over a two-year period at 5 percent interest. An amount not to exceed $400,000 was authorized by the fund's trustees "to promote the inauguration of passenger lines, on certain selected routes in the United States."

Only two airmail operators saw merit in the idea: Harris M. "Pop" Hanshue of Western Air Express and Walter T. Varney of Varney Speed Lines. Guggenheim chose Western Air Express because it had already begun service on the West Coast. It also had a city pair (Los Angeles and San Francisco) on its mail route structure that could provide a good test of the equipment, personnel and service to the public.

Guggenheim stipulated that aircraft had to be procured that could fly with one engine inoperative. After studying several possibilities, the choice narrowed to two, the tri-motored Ford 4-AT and the Fokker F-VII-3m. The latter was selected because of its inherent stability and its potential to accept the new Pratt & Whitney 425-hp Wasp engine. Other modifications were requested, and the result was a new model designated the Fokker F-10 Super Trimotor. It could carry 12 passengers and cruise at 120 mph.

With these capabilities at hand, Western Air Express issued a schedule that called for departures from the two cities at 10:30 a.m. and arrival at the opposite terminals at 1:30 p.m. daily. This compared with 131ž2 hours by rail to cover the 400-mile distance. Passengers were furnished with an in-flight lunch, newspapers, market reports, magazines, and headsets with which to listen to radio broadcasts en route.

The first F-10 was delivered to Western and put into passenger service on May 26, 1928. Passengers paid $50 for the one-way trip. In The Only Way To Fly, a history of Western Air Express (later Western Airlines), Robert J. Serling reviewed the results of the experimental operation: "The so-called Model Airway experiment never really ended; rather, it gradually was absorbed into Western's normal operations, and the lessons learned were incorporated into the airline's procedures and policies. In a technical sense, it terminated when Hanshue repaid the Guggenheim loan in full before 1929 was over….Judged solely by a financial yardstick, the experiment failed in that it demonstrated the futility of trying to make money with an all-passenger operation. But more was involved than cold profit vs loss figures, and in all other respects the Model Airway was a smash hit."

Providing the aircraft was only one aspect of the model airline assistance rendered by the fund. More important was the creation of a special weather reporting service along the route between the two cities. Meteorology was what one writer called "an infantile science" in the early 1920s. Few attempts were made to collect, collate and disseminate the sort of weather information a pilot needed.

Notably underfunded, the Weather Bureau had few reporting stations throughout the country. The weather between Los Angeles and San Francisco was notable for its wide variety of conditions, including fog, clouds and general low visibility, coupled with high winds and thunderstorms over the mountains. The route between the two cities was ideal for establishing a source of weather information for pilots.

The fund created a meteorology committee of experts to study the need and agreed that it would manage a weather service along the route between the terminals at Los Angeles and San Francisco for one year. The committee set a limit of $27,500 for the experiment. A series of stations was set up to report the weather, including winds aloft, three times a day (later increased to six) to the two terminals. All pilots, not just Western Air Express, could check the reports before departure. Aircraft with on-board radio equipment could receive reports in flight. The pilots of aircraft without radios could fly over certain designated ground points where ground observers would spread out canvas strips indicating weather conditions.

In-flight radio communications were becoming fairly common by the end of the 1920s, and the telephone was used to transmit weather information between reporting stations and terminals on the ground. Nevertheless, the Guggenheim experimental service encouraged Bell Telephone Laboratories and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. to push ahead with teletype service, greatly enhancing the weather reporting process. Within two years, teletype service was being used along 8,000 miles of the nation's airways.

The Guggenheim weather service concept made a significant contribution to air safety. Airline pilots flying the Model Airway soon realized the increased value of two-way radio communications for weather reporting and backed it enthusiastically. The Army Air Corps, having paid dearly in loss of life because of weather-related accidents along the West Coast in routine military flying, was especially grateful. Lieutenant Colonel Gerald C. Brant, commander of Crissy Field near San Francisco, said that the Guggenheim success with the weather reporting service "had done more to raise the morale of the Army Flying Corps than anything else that has happened since I became associated with it. Formerly a pilot did not know what was ahead; now he knows and is prepared."

The experimental weather service ended in June 1929, having proved its worth far beyond the original expectations. During this time, the crowded California airway was flown without a single accident attributable to weather. Several months before the end of the experiment, the Weather Bureau announced that it would take over the service officially on July 1, 1929. Arrangements were made in the months following to begin extension of the service nationwide.

The experimental weather service benefited other activities besides aviation, benefits not foreseen at the time. The frequent daily forecasts gave farmers warnings about rainstorms, which gave them time to remove fruit being sun-dried. The U.S. Forest Service used the reports to combat the spread of forest fires. Vacationers could plan their trips with a fair knowledge of what lay ahead weather-wise.

Another program, suggested by Lindbergh and sponsored by the Guggenheims, was the marking of rooftops throughout the nation to assist in navigation. Eight thousand postmasters were contacted in October 1928. They were asked to distribute circulars to request that all towns of between 1,000 and 50,000 population paint the town name in letters 10 to 20 feet high on a prominent rooftop. The circulars also requested that a large arrow pointing north and a smaller arrow pointing to the nearest airfield be added. When the campaign closed in December 1929, more than 8,000 American towns had so identified themselves. Painting the name of the town on water towers also helped. The towns that responded to the call received a certificate signed by Lindbergh. The entire roof-marking project cost the fund $15,803.35. Many a pilot flying under visual flight rules has oriented himself in the years since through this simple but worthwhile idea.

Meanwhile, the two Guggenheims realized that education in aeronautics would require more than merely establishing a number of research centers around the country. Not only the youth but also the general public had to learn about the potential of aviation and the role it would play in national and international commerce. The Daniel Guggenheim Fund gave grants for courses and research on the economic effects of aviation at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and the Northwestern University School of Law.

The fund established a course in aerial surveying at Syracuse University, created a summer program to train flight-school instructors at New York University, and made grants to various foreign aeronautical societies and flying clubs to preserve aeronautical documentation.

To further educate the public, the fund promoted two tours to all 48 states by Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis, and by Floyd Bennett, Richard E. Byrd's pilot on his North Pole flight in the Josephine Ford. They gave speeches in more than 100 communities and dropped leaflets to many others encouraging the use of airmail and the building and improving of airports. The fund trustees conservatively estimated that 30 million people alone saw Lindbergh and his famous plane.

Harry Guggenheim had a variety of reports and bulletins on aviation subjects printed during the fund's existence that explained the rationale behind its activities and told of the technical problems and hazards to aviation that needed to be solved. Pamphlets digesting aeronautical advances that had been made in European countries were also published for the benefit of the military services and American industry.

Harry Guggenheim gave many speeches preaching the gospel of aviation and its economic potential. The fund also sponsored national meetings on various aspects of aviation safety, advances in meteorology, air-crew medical problems, insurance for air carriers and crews, aviation legislation, airport developments, and airplane control characteristics.

There were still other accomplishments beneficial to aviation made possible by the Guggenheims' wealth and foresight. Daniel and his wife, Florence, had established a foundation in 1924 "for the promotion, through charitable and benevolent activities, of the well-being of mankind throughout the world," which has continued through the years.

The Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation has supported a wide variety of activities ranging from hospital construction and operation to civic improvement and aerospace research. In the latter area, the foundation supported the experiments of Dr. Robert H. Goddard, father of rocketry, with grants that eventually amounted to $100,000. It later created professorships in Goddard's name at Cal Tech and Princeton universities, where they had previously established jet propulsion centers. The Institute of Flight Structures was established at Columbia University for training graduate engineers in aerospace vehicle design. Laboratories for the aerospace propulsion sciences were also founded at Princeton.

The foundation created the Aviation Safety Center at Cornell in 1950. Research has been conducted there in collision avoidance, crash fire protection, human factors, instrumentation error prevention, prevention of in-flight explosions, and STOL applications.

Still another spinoff from the Guggenheim fortune was the Harvard-Guggenheim Center for Aviation Health and Safety at Harvard's School of Public Health. This center specializes in studying medical problems of aircrew members, such as stress on pilots and the effects of emergency cabin depressurization.

In addition to these aviation promotions that were widely publicized, the Guggenheims quietly took other actions that also had far-reaching effects. Harry wrote many letters to businessmen and financiers to give them confidence in investing in the future of aviation, but he also warned against overconfidence.

Harry told one audience in 1927, "The greatest danger at the moment may arise from the promotion of ill-advised, economically unsound aviation enterprises." He added that, "the conservative investing public should be extremely wary of investing its money…until the science, art, and operation as a whole have been more thoroughly perfected."

Harry also wrote to a number of newspaper editors urging accuracy and less sesationalism in reporting on aviation–and with good reason. As one writer noted, "Aviation writing in the late 1920s was not aviation writing at al; it was Broadway theatrical writing."

The Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics shut down its operations officially on February 1, 1930, but there was a unanimous conviction that the money had been well spent. Herbert Hoover, while still secretary of commerce, noted that the fund had "accomplished more for aviation in the last two and a half years than any other factor we have had at work on the situation." Lindbergh, shortly before his death in 1974, remarked that the fund "was the first important boost that aviation in the United States had….Putting all this money in an infant industry had a tremendous psychological effect."

Both Guggenheims are gone now. Daniel died at age 74 on September 28, 1930, eight months after the fund closed down. Harry died on January 22, 1971, at age 80. Together the father and son team had used the family's millions for aviation's much-needed seed money. Although the fund had been in existence for only four years, its accomplishments were monumental.

Harry Guggenheim himself, in summing up what had been done in the fund's final report, said: "In the past four years, the public attitude toward aviation has changed from apathetic indifference to enthusiastic support. Not only is there a sound basis for aviation so it is now financially able to take care of itself, but also there have been established in different geographical sections of this country aeronautical engineering and research centers which are second to none in the world.

"With commercial aircraft companies assured of public support and aeronautical science equally assured of continued research, the further development of aviation in this country can best be fulfilled in the typically American manner of private business enterprise. The work of the fund now passes into other hands."

It is the nation's good luck that Daniel Guggenheim chose to advance the aeronautical sciences when America was at a crossroads in its aviation history, and that his son Harry carried out his grand plans. As a rationale for dedicating much of his fortune to aviation, the elder Guggenheim often quoted an old Hebrew proverb,"Who gives in health gives gold; in sickness, silver; after death, lead."

All of us in aviation owe more than we realize to the two men who believed in and followed this credo.


For additional reading, contributing editor C.V. Glines suggests: Legacy of Flight, by Richard P. Hallion (University of Washington Press); and Seed Money: The Guggenheim Story, by Milton Lomask (Farrar, Strauss).


26, Aviation History|, Aviation History


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