Eddie Rickenbacker

October 8, 1890 — 

July 27, 1973

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was born on October 8, 1890 in Columbus, Ohio.  He was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient. Rickenbacker was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation.

Eddie Rickenbacker developed an early interest in automobiles, and by the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917 he was one of the country’s top racing drivers. He began army service as a driver and soon became a fighter pilot. Rickenbacker was awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down 26 enemy airplanes in World War I.  He later founded and directed his own automobile company.  In 1932 he became an executive with several airlines until forming Eastern Airlines.

With the outbreak of World War II, Rickenbacker volunteered his services to the government. En route to deliver a message to General MacArthur, his plane went down in the Pacific. Adrift for 24 days, Rickenbacker led the survivors in catching food and water until they were rescued.  In 1943, Rickenbacker requested permission to travel to the Soviet Union to help with their American-built aircraft and to assess their military capabilities. While he successfully accomplished his mission, the trip is best remembered for his error in alerting the Soviets to the secret B-29 super fortress project.

At the end of the war, Rickenbacker returned to Eastern Airlines. He remained with the company until a downturn in economic conditions forced him from his position as CEO in 1959. He stayed on as chairman of the board until December 31, 1963. Rickenbacker died at Zurich, Switzerland on July 27, 1973.