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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Rickenbacker, Eddie, 1890-1973



  • Existence: 1890-1973

Biographical Note

Edward "Eddie" Rickenbacker was born in Columbus, Ohio on October 8, 1890 to William and Elizabeth Rickenbacher. He adopted the middle name of "Vernon" and altered the spelling of his last name to "Rickenbacker" due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. In May 1917, Rickenbacker enlisted in the United States Army and arrived in France. Initially Rickenbacker was assigned to be a staff driver for General John Pershing at the rank of Sergeant first-class, but, eager to fly, he managed to get a transfer to the Army Air Service.

After training, Rickenbacker was commissioned as a first lietuenant and was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, which was the first all-American air unit to see action during World War I. Rickenbacker had his first confirmed victory on April 24, 1918 and in May, he became an ace and won the French Croix de Guerre by shooting down five German airplanes. He was named commander of the 94th, the "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron, on September 24, 1918. The following day, Eddie shot down two more German airplanes, victories for which the U.S. government awarded him a belated Congressional Medal of Honor in 1930. His twenty-sixth confirmed victory occurred on October 30, and the last victory (the 69th) for the 94th occurred on November 10, 1918. World War I ended the next day. Eddie returned home in 1919 as America's "Ace of Aces." In 1919, Rickenbacker was discharged from the Army Air Service with the rank of captain.

After World War I, Rickenbacker started the Rickenbacker Motor Company in 1920, which went bankrupt in 1927. That same year, he purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ran it successfully for many years, closing it in 1941 due to World War II, and selling it in 1945. In 1935, Rickenbacker was asked by General Motors (GM) to manage Eastern Air Transport. Merging Eastern with Florida Airways, he formed Eastern Air Lines (EAL) and bought EAL in 1938 and remained active with the company for decades. Rickenbacker resigned as the Chairman of the Board on December 31, 1963, at the age of 73.

After his resignation from EAL, he and his wife (Adelaide) traveled. In 1973, while in Switzerland, Rickenbacker suffered a stroke and after contracting pnuemonia died on July 23, 1973.

Sources and Further Reading:

Eddie Rickenbacker papers, Auburn University Digital Library, online finding aid:

Lewis, W. David. Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the Twentieth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2005.

Rickenbacker, Edward V. Rickenbacker: An Autobiography. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.

Rickenbacker, Edward V. Seven came through: Rickenbacker's full story. New York: Doubleday, 1943.

Ross, John F. Enduring courage: ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the dawn of the age of speed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2014.

Found in 9 Collections and/or Records:

Biographical Information Files - R

Scope and Contents Individuals whose names begin with R: Rae, William, Jr. [Wind tunnel engineer] "William Rae Jr., Who Turned His Love for Planes into Long Career," Seattle Times, May 29, 1993 Rahder, Karl F. [Analyst and journalist] "The RAF Bombing Campaign in Germany: Ethical and Strategic Dimensions," by Karl F. Rahder. Paper presented to the University of Chicago's Workshop on Military Affairs,...

American Fighter Aces Association Oral Interviews

Identifier: 2002-02-13-OralHist
Abstract Collection of approximately one hundred twenty (120) oral histories of Fighter Aces and several non-aces, including relatives of aces, other military pilots, and military historians.

Hamilton Coolidge World War I Collection

Identifier: 2000-10-16-101
Abstract Hamilton "Ham" Coolidge (1895-1918) was one of many young men from wealthy New England families who enlisted during World War I. The collection contains materials related to Captain Coolidge's service a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Service 94th Aero Squadron. Coolidge achieved Ace status, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and was killed in action.

Ray M. and Leonard H. Grimshaw Collection

Identifier: 2017-01-24
Abstract Ray (1894-1969) and Leonard (1888-1971) Grimshaw were brothers who served as mechanics during World War I. The collection contains correspondence, military documents, photographs, clippings, newspapers, a diary, and booklets primarily relating to the military service of Ray M. Grimshaw but also includes a small selection of correspondence from his brother, Leonard.

William James World War I Photograph Collection

Identifier: 2001-02-15
Abstract The collection contains four photographs of fighter pilots who served during World War I and one photograph of a Fokker Dr.I Triplane (F.I).

Harold A. McGinnis Collection

Identifier: 2004-06-08
Abstract Harold A. McGinnis (1893-1986) served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Aviation Section as a pilot during World War I and remained in the military until his retirement in 1948. The collection contains pilot log books relating to World War I and photographs relating to World War I and pre-World War II era military aircraft.

Odell Family Collection

Identifier: 2009-05-18
Abstract The Odell Family Collection primarily consists of field message books and printed ephemera used during World War I by Lieutenant James H. Odell of the Royal Flying Corps Canada. There is also a small amount of photographs featuring aircraft of the 1920s-1930s.

James Pinger Collection

Identifier: 2000-01-20
Abstract The collection contains a signed black-and-white portrait of World War I pilot and ace Eddie Rickenbacker and a certificate celebrating the 50th anniversary of United Airlines.

Series XV. Personal, 1910-2002, undated

Scope and Contents: Personal The Personal series consists of materials related to WPL’s and MOL’s professional lives but which are not directly tied to any of the companies. The series is divided into four subseries: William P. Lear, Moya Olsen Lear, Lear Family, and General. Each of these has been further broken down and are clarified below. Materials are generally, but not always, arranged by date, with undated items at the...

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