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William B. Stout

William Bushnell Stout

1880-1956

William Bushnell Stout was born March 16, 1880 in Quincy, Illinois, and died in 1956 at the age of 76. Preferring to be known as an imaginer, his innovations have profoundly affected aviation.

Stout moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1914 to help Scripps-Booth redesign their motorcycle. The result was the first Scripps-Booth automobile. In 1917, he joined Packard to manage the newly formed aircraft division. During World War I, William Stout served as technical advisor to the Aircraft Production Board, counseling that aircraft design was causing too much power to be used to fight "built-in headwinds," and advised designers to instead "build think wings," and "shut all the bracing structures inside."
Orville Wright endorsed his concepts by calling the resulting trial model "the next step in aviation." In 1919, Stout built the first American commercial monoplane-the Batwing. The Batwing was followed in 1920 by the first all-metal plane designed in America-a torpedo plane for the Navy.

Henry Ford spent an afternoon at the Stout Metal Airplane Company shop and heard Stout say that Detroit needed an airport and a factory at the airport. Ford built that airport, a factory, and bought the Stout Metal Airplane Company. Stout stayed with the company and produced the Ford Tri-Motor.

William Stout also founded America's first scheduled airline. Stout Air Service introduced the first uniformed pilots, flying in enclosed cockpits. The airline was sold and resold, eventually becoming United Airlines.
Stout was a man of many talents. He proposed building the all metal Sky Car. He served as aviation and technical editor of the Chicago Tribune. He founded a magazine, Aerial Age, and was well known for his innovations with trains, automobiles, and airplanes.

Stout was enshrined on October 14, 1988 for his outstanding contributions to the advancement of aircraft design.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program