If you are not familiar with the great World War I fighter Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, by the end of today’s post you will be. As a youngster, I had heard many stories about this great man, but I must admit that in researching all the material for this article, I have gained even more insight into the life of Eddie Rickenbacker.
Eddie was born in 1890, and if you would have known him as a youngster, you probably would have said that this reckless young lad would not live long. It was true that Eddie was reckless, but what was false was that he would not live long. Eddie died in 1973 at the age of 82 years old.
Come along with as I provide you with 10 cool facts about the famous pilot: Eddie Rickenbacker.
1: Eddie’s Real Name. With the war being waged against Germany, Eddie realized that his last name would not be very well accepted since his Mother and Father immigrated from Switzerland with their German name. Eddie’s name was actually Edward Reichenbacher. Eddie was already famous when he changed his name, so it created a stir in the media for a short time.
2: Fast Eddie. As a youngster, Eddie was always quite mechanically inclined. He gained a job with Frayer Miller Air-cooled Car Company. He was soon racing cars for them. Becoming well known as a driver who was risky and fast, he was soon adopted by other car owners to race their cars. Fast Eddie raced in a total of 4 Indianapolis 500 auto races. The years he raced were:
Eddie even set a speed record of 134 MPH while he was driving a Blitzen Benz. He earned an average of $40,000 per year as a race car driver.
3: World War I. The United States had been drawn into the great World War. Eddie being patriotic, joined immediately and was given the responsibility of being a driver for General John Pershing. Eddie also worked on staff cars and that is when he met Colonel Billy Mitchell who was Chief of the Army Air Service. Eddie told Colonel Mitchell about his dream of flying a fighter jet and Mitchell arranged for Eddie to go to flight school. He applied to join the newest air fighter unit: the 94th Aero Squadron and was accepted.
4: Eddie The Ace. Eddie flew his first mission in early April of 1918. On May 30th of that same year, Eddie earned the title of Ace when he downed 2 Germans in 1 day. Eddie was born to be a fighter pilot.
5: Top Fighter Pilot. In the short time that Eddie was a fighter pilot, he logged over 300 hours of flight time, and shot down a total of 26 aircraft. All of that occurred from April 6,1918 to October 30,1918. In doing so, Eddie amassed all of these military awards:
The Medal of Honor
The Distinguished Service Cross with 8 oak leaf clusters
The Medal for Merit
The World War I Victory Medal with 6 battle clasps
The Legion of Honor
and the Croix de Guerre with 2 palms
6: Marriage and Eddie’s First Business. With the war over, Eddie started Rickenbacker Motors. The cars he made came with the first 4 wheel brake system ever developed on an automobile. Eddie also met and wed Adelaide Durant. Rickenbacker Motors couldn’t compete with the top automobile manufacturers and Eddie went into deep debt.
7: Still an Entrepreneur. The issues with Rickenbacker Motors didn’t stop Eddie from his business pursuits. In 1927, Eddie bought the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was because of Eddie that the racetrack has the high banked corners and many other improvements that lifted the speedway into more fame. Because of World War II, Eddie closed down the track to help the United States ration fuel. In 1945, Eddie sold the track to Anton Hulman Jr.
8: New Business Venture. After selling the Indy raceway, Eddie worked for General Motors. In his wise business sense, somehow Eddie convinced GM to purchase North American Aviation who also owned Eastern Airlines. Eddie than managed to purchase Eastern Airlines and ran it for many years. Eddie worked with the federal government and attained mail routes for the airline. At that point, commercial airlines did not transport civilians, but many say it was Eddie who brought the subject to the forefront of airline owner’s minds. Eastern went defunct in 1991, but was a major civilian transport airline from New York to Florida before it went out of business.
9: Comic Strip. Eddie seemed to be able to do anything. That is what many people thought when this ex fighter pilot, car racer, and business man actually wrote the script for a comic that was in many newspapers. It was called Ace Drummond and was about an aviator and his many adventures in world flying ventures. Ace Drummond even was turned into a movie in 1936.
10: Death Tried Many Times To Get Eddie. Early in this article, I mentioned how as a young man, Eddie was reckless and many thought he wouldn’t live long. Eddie faced many times when death knocked on his door but Eddie wouldn’t answer. Some were:
Meeting the Red Baron in battle of fighter pilot wits
Eastern Airline crash. Eddie was on board and had life threatening injuries. The media reported he was dead, but he proved them wrong.
In aiding during World War II, he was flying with others and went off course. Crashing into the ocean, Eddie and others were adrift at sea for 24 days. Again the news media reported Eddie dead, and again he proved them wrong. At one point, Eddie caught a seagull that had landed on his head. They used it for fishing bait and survived the ocean.
Death did finally get Eddie while he and his wife traveled to Switzerland. Eddie had a stroke and died, but in the hearts of people everywhere, Eddie will always live on.
Eddie’s life can teach all of us a lot about business, survival, and love. Eddie’s wife was so heartbroken after his death that she took her own life in the hopes to be back with him. As I researched and wrote this article, I feel like I have known Eddie all my life. I can actually now say that I have another hero in my life…Eddie Rickenbacker.
If you want to read some memoirs that Eddie wrote himself, I suggest you click here.
Now enjoy the 1st Chapter of the Ace Drummond movie from 1936 starring Lon Chaney Jr, based on Eddie Rickenbacker’s cartoon script.