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Edward V. Rickenbacker

Edward Rickenbacker

1890-1973

Capt. Edward Rickenbacker was born October 8, 1890 in Columbus, Ohio. A former resident of Detroit, Michigan, Eddie was a well-known race car driver, having competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times before the onset of World War I. As the U.S. prepared to send troops to Europe, Rickenbacker was offered a position as a staff driver for Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. He accepted and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917.

Soon after arriving in France, Rickenbacker transferred to the Army Air Service and learned to fly. With his training completed, he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant and became chief engineer at the training base in Issoudun. After making many improvements there, he was sent for training in aerial gunnery in Cazeau in January, 1918. He qualified as a candidate for training to become a combat pilot instead.

As the first U.S. pilots prepared to leave for the front, Rickenbacker asked to go with them. Maj. Carl Spaatz approved the request and Rickenbacker joined the 94th Aero Squadron, where he proved to be an exceptional fighter pilot. He shot down his first plant with a machine gun on April 29, 1918. A month later he show down his fifth to qualify as an ace. Rickenbacker rose to command the 94th Aero Squadron and became the leading U.S. ace of World War I with 26 confirmed victories.

His most remarkable action came on September 25, 1918 as Rickenbacker patrolled alone near Billy, France. He spotted a group of seven enemy aircraft, and despite the strength of their numbers, boldly attacked and shot down two of them. President Herbert Hoover awarded Rickenbacker the Medal of Honor in 1930 for his aggressiveness in that action.

In 1935, he became general manager of Eastern Air Lines, and three years later, president and director. To support the World War II effort as a civilian, he conducted an important fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union for the United States.

Rickenbacker passed away in Zurich, Switzerland in 1973. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, Croix de Guerre, Legion of Honor, and numerous other medals and awards. Rickenbacker was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1965. In 1995 he was honored with his own U.S. postal stamp.

Edward V. Rickenbacker was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on May 21, 2011.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program