Ninety years ago, on July 22, 1925, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft was established in Hartford by 37-year-old Frederick B. Rentschler, an aircraft engine designer from Ohio who had developed "a consuming passion" for aviation.
Rentschler had grown frustrated with Wright Aeronautical, where he held a senior position. He felt that "investment bankers" who ran the company had no real interest in what it did, or in the day-to-day management.
He could have gone back to Ohio to the family business, which would have been a safe and prosperous route to take. But that business had nothing to do with aviation.
Armed with little more than an idea and considerable confidence, Rentschler went to Washington in early 1925 and told an admiral of his acquaintance that he believed he could produce a 400- to-500 horsepower air-cooled radial engine that would be superior to the then-dominant liquid-cooled engines.
Twenty-five years later, Rentschler recalled that the admiral "listened attentively" but said there were no funds to support such an effort. But, the admiral said, if you produce such an engine, the Navy will certainly be interested.
By April, 1925, Rentschler and his brother had convinced an Ohio manufacturer whom they had known for years, that the aircraft engine project did indeed have merit. The company had a machine tool division called Pratt & Whitney, in Hartford. Rentschler boarded a train in New York and paid a visit to the Hartford division.
Three months later, Rentschler had his funding – up to $1.5 million initially – to launch his new company in space that was only being used to store tobacco. The new company, called Pratt & Whitney Aircraft to distinguish it from the first Pratt & Whitney, was born.
In the interim between the visit to Hartford and the incorporation in July, Rentschler had begun assembling his engineering team, including names like George Mead and Andy Willgoos, both still part of Pratt & Whitney lore.
The first Wasp engine ran on Christmas Eve of 1925. Rentschler and crew had gone from being unemployed early in the year to founding a company at mid-year, to launching a product that would change the course of aviation history, by year-end.
Quite a legacy.