A Brief History of Glenn L. Martin & His Company
Born in the closing days of the nineteenth century, aviation pioneer Glenn L. Martin played
a significant role in the U.S. aircraft industry from its pioneer days to the onset of the space
age. A businessman rather than designer, he created and led a company whose landmarks
included innovative aircraft and future industry leaders.
Martin’s Pioneering Role in the Aircraft Industry
Born in Iowa in 1886, Glenn Luther Martin grew up in Kansas, where he worked as an auto mechanic and attended a business college during his teen-age years. At the age of 19, he moved with his family to Santa Ana, California. Initially working in Santa Ana as an automobile mechanic, 20-year old Martin started his own successful garage and car dealership there.
Start of Aircraft Manufacturing in Southern California
Seeing his first airplane in 1907 and witnessing Los Angeles’s Dominguez air meet in January 1910, Martin aided by mechanics under his employment built in 1910 his first successful airplane, which was patterned after Glenn Curtiss’s design. Martin piloted the craft on its first flight in August. The following year, Martin launched the Glenn L. Martin Company in Santa Ana to build aircraft. The company moved to larger facilities in Los Angeles after its incorporation in 1912. At that time, the country’s major aircraft builders, namely the Wright Company and Curtiss Airplane and Motor, were east of the Mississippi River. Martin therefore laid the groundwork for the West Coast, particularly southern California, to become the heart of the U.S. aerospace industry.
Martin despite his experience as a mechanic became involved in aircraft manufacturing as a businessman rather than a designer. On the contrary, the Wright Brothers and Curtiss first built their aircraft as a sideline and then sought to capitalize on their inventions following their success. Under them, aircraft manufacturing was essentially a cottage industry, and neither company had professional management until they were sold to investors both in 1915.
A self-taught but skilled pilot, Martin promoted aviation—as well as his business—
through exhibition flying and a flight school. One of Martin’s students and early
customers was William Boeing, who entered the industry himself after buying a
Martin airplane. Located in the seat of the movie industry, Martin also showcased
his flying in the 1915 movie, “A Girl of Yesterday,” starring Mary Pickford.
Leading up to the U.S. entry into World War I, the Martin Company attracted the attention of the Wright Company’s new owners. They merged together with the General Aeronautic Company and Simplex Automobile Company in 1916, forming the Wright-Martin Co. Martin became vice president of aircraft production. The company’s operations were eventually consolidated in New Jersey, and Martin’s California facilities as well as the Wrights’ factory in Ohio were closed.
Move to Baltimore
Martin soon became disillusioned with his partnership with the Wright Company. Building airplanes was never a high priority among the Wright group, and Wright-Martin became even more focused on engine production when the U.S. joined WWI. Martin withdrew from the company and established a new Glenn L. Martin Company in Cleveland in 1917.
In 1928, Martin sold its Cleveland facilities and aircraft designs to the Great Lakes Aircraft Corp. and started anew in Baltimore. The company regarded Baltimore’s climate more suitable than that of Cleveland. Located on the Lake Erie shore, Cleveland’s harsh winters hampered year-round testing of aircraft, especially seaplanes. At the time, Baltimore was luring aircraft manufacturers to its new municipal airport in Dundalk, whose construction was starting. Unsatisfied with the city’s meager offer of land at the new airport site, however, Martin surreptitiously bought 1,240 acres of water-front property in Middle River, opening the present factory there in 1929.
Glenn Martin retired from the company in 1952 and died three years later. In a drive to diversify, his successors arranged in 1961 a merger with American-Marietta, which made building materials and industrial chemicals, forming Martin Marietta. During the U.S. aerospace industry’s post-Cold War contraction and consolidation, Martin Marietta joined with Lockheed to become Lockheed-Martin in 1995.
Under Glen L. Martin’s leadership, the Glenn L. Martin Co. contributed significantly to military and commercial aviation. In 1915, the company produced the Army’s first tractor-type trainer airplanes. Pulled through the air by a propeller, the Martin biplanes were safer than the pusher-type aircraft previously purchased from Wright and Curtiss. Martin also made the first U.S.-designed bomber—the MB-1—and the B-10, which is considered the first modern bomber. During WWII, the Martin Company, which employed at one time over 53,000 people, produced 5,255 B-26 Marauder medium bombers; 1,366 PBM Mariner patrol planes; 1,175 model 187 Baltimore and 496 model 167 Maryland light bombers; and 531 Boeing-designed B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers, including the “Enola Gay” and “Bockscar,” which dropped the first nuclear bombs on Japan. For the U.S. Navy, Martin manufactured six giant JRM Mars flying boats, which were initially designed as a patrol bomber but served as a cargo plane. Martin, whose M-130 China Clipper flying boats blazed Pan Am’s route across the Pacific in 1935, jump started U.S commercial aircraft production after WWII with its first post-war civilian airliner, the 202. The 202 was later developed into the larger and pressurized 404.
As WWII was drawing to an end, Martin adopted jet propulsion for its products. Responding to Air Force requests for jet-powered bombers in the mid-1940s, Martin created the XB-48 and then the XB-51. Both employed a bicycle landing gear, which allowed a thinner wing for greater speed and became associated later with Boeing’s B-47 and B-52 bombers. The XB-51 also incorporated a rotating bombbay, in which ordnance was mounted on the door and dropped as it rotated open. This design created less drag than conventional bombbay doors and went to production with Martin’s B-57 Canberra. Martin also built for the Navy 19 P4M Mercator patrol planes, 18 of which were adapted for electronic reconnaissance. Composite powered, the P4M cruised on twin piston engines and employed two jet engines for added boost when extra speed was needed. Martin’s final aircraft design, the jet-powered P6M Seamaster seaplane, was intended as the Navy’s part of the U.S. triad nuclear force but was eclipsed by ballistic missile-carrying submarines.
Although the last Martin airplane, a P5M Marlin, left the assembly line in 1960, the company continued with the production of missiles and rockets. During Glenn Martin’s tenure, the company made Matador and Mace cruise missiles, Viking sounding rockets, and Vanguard booster rockets. Subsequently, the company designed the Titan series of boosters used as a nuclear-armed ICBM and as a space launch vehicle.
As a pioneer manufacturer, Martin provided early experience for the next generation of industry leaders. In the early days, Martin was aided by Charles Day, the company’s first chief engineer who eventually left for Standard Aircraft, and former Curtiss chief engineer Charles Willard, who subsequently started his own company. Future manufacturers Lawrence Bell and Donald Douglas both served under Glenn Martin in California and Cleveland. James McConnell, who formed his own company in 1938, started at Martin in 1931 after working for Ford, Hamilton, Huff-Daland, and Great Lakes. The Glenn L. Martin Company also employed James H. “Dutch” Kindelberger, who later led North American Aviation for 26 years.
Glenn Martin’s Legacy
Glenn L. Martin founded his namesake company when airplanes were made off sticks and cloth and then led it into the era of rockets and missiles. Under his leadership, the company made many contributions to the aerospace industry, especially in the war effort. Furthermore, Martin helped the industry grow by serving as a breeding ground for future manufacturers.