“The Ace of Aces”
Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker was one of the most revered personalities of his time and a skilled entrepreneur. Born in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker began developing a sense of mechanical aptitude early in life thanks to his father, who installed in him the belief that “a machine has to have a purpose”. Rickenbacker dropped out of school to support his family after his father’s accidental death, but continued to pursue his interest in mechanics.
Rickenbacker would become well-known as a racing driver for manufacturers like Peugeot and Maxwell, and also competed at the Indianapolis 500 four times between 1912 and 1916. However, when the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, Rickenbacker enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to France. Rickenbacker wanted to become a pilot, but his lack of academic background hindered his efforts. However, because of his mechanical abilities, he was made an engineering officer at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center and would often practice flying during his free time. He became very proficient, but his mechanical skills were so valued that his superiors tried to prevent him from getting his wings. However, he was eventually assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron. Rickenbacker shot down his first enemy plane in April of 1918. It would be the first of a record 26 victories for Rickenbacker during WWI, earning him the nickname “Ace of Aces.” Rickenbacker flew 300-plus combat hours during WWI, more than any other U.S. pilot, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre by France, and the Medal of Honor.
After WWI, Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company in 1920 and began building cars that incorporated innovations from racing, such as a four-wheel brakes. However, sales were poor, and the company went bankrupt in 1927. Later that year, Rickenbacker would purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and make numerous improvements to the facility. Rickenbacker closed the Speedway in 1941 to help conserve resources for WWII and later sold the track to Anton Hulman Jr. Rickenbacker also became head of the North American Aviation Division of General Motors, which later became Eastern Airlines. A strong believer in free enterprise and the rights of the individual, Rickenbacker’s life was defined by his self-reliance and imagination.