IPMS Columbus

Edward Vernon “Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker was born in Columbus Ohio on October 8, 1890. He was the third of eight children. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland and German was spoken in their home. 

One point of trivia is that he had no middle name when he was born, and he chose it himself later “because it sounded classy” and also changed the spelling of his surname from Richenbacher to “make it sound less Germanic.” He usually answered to “Rick” but in his later life he was known as “America’s Ace of Aces” or “Captain Eddie.”

He was known as a “bad boy” and had his first of many close encounters with death at age 8. His young life was difficult, as his father was a day laborer. 

So, to help the family, Eddie sold newspapers, eggs and goat’s milk, and worked in a glass-making factory, a foundry, a brewery, a shoe factory and a monument business where he carved and polished his own father’s tombstone after his father’s accidental death in 1904 when Eddie was only 13. This ended his formal education, in the seventh grade, although he enrolled in a correspondence course in engineering and was fascinated by machines.

In 1906 when he started to work for Lee Frayer, a race car driver and head of the Frayer-Miller Automobile Company, who  let Eddie race with him as a mechanic. This led to his job as a salesman for Columbus Buggy Company, the manufacturer of Firestone-Columbus automobiles.

Next, he started working with Fred Duesenberg and then became a race car driver who had many more close brushes with death. 

Known as quite a daredevil, he set a world speed record of 134 mph at Daytona in 1914 and competed in the Indianapolis 500 many times.

Despite his fear of heights, he had his first aircraft ride in November 1916 while he was preparing for a race in California. It was flown by Glenn Martin.  When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, he enlisted and was sworn in as a Sergeant First Class, but he wanted to fly. Age 27 was considered too old for flight training and he did not have a high school diploma or college degree.

While working as Captain William Mitchell’s chauffeur, he claimed to be only 25 and kept making his case to fly until he was permitted to begin flight training. After only 17 days of being a student pilot, he was commissioned as a lieutenant and assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron. 

He was later given command of the squadron, followed by promotion to Captain. 

Flying 300 combat hours, more than any other U.S. pilot, he survived 134 enemy aerial encounters. He was promoted to Major after he left active duty, but preferred to use Captain, as he wrote in his memoire, “I felt that my rank of captain was earned and deserved.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1931 by President Hoover.

Civilian life led him through being Vice President of the Rickenbacker Motor Company in 1920, his marriage to Adele Frost Durant in 1922, purchasing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1927 which he owned until 1945, GM, Fokker Aircraft Company, and when he convinced GM to purchase North American Aviation which included Eastern Air Transport, which he was asked to manage in 1935.

When he was 73 years old, he retired from Eastern Airlines, on December 31, 1963.  Captain Rickenbacker suffered a stroke in 1972, and after recovery, traveled to Switzerland, where he died of pneumonia on July 23, 1973.  

You can learn more about Rickenbacker’s life and adventures here:

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