Most of us have heard of the Red Baron of World War I through the antics of Charles Schulz cartoon character, Snoopy. The persistent beagle dons his leather pilot’s helmet, goggles and white silk scarf, ascends to the top of his doghouse and begins to take battle with the Red Baron. What you may not know is that the designer of the Fokker Triplane, used in World War I by flying ace, Manfred von Richtofen was Anthony Fokker, who was born on this day in 1890.
Anthony was born in what is now known as Indonesia, the son of a Dutch coffee plantation owner. When he was only four the family moved back to the Netherlands so their children could have a Dutch upbringing. The boy was not studious and didn’t finish high school, but he had a mechanical mind and loved experimenting with steam engines, model trains and airplanes.
When he turned twenty, the Wright Brothers were gaining public attention with their flying machines. In France during that year, Fokker was witness to Wilbur Wright’s flying exhibition and became impassioned with flying. He was sent by his father to Germany to receive training as an automobile mechanic, but his interest was in flying, so he transferred to the Erste deutsche Automobil-Fachschule in Mainz. That same year Fokker built his first aircraft which was destroyed by his business partner who flew it into a tree. He gained his flying certificate in his second “Spin” aircraft, which shortly thereafter was also destroyed by the same business partner. That ended the partnership.
When World War I broke out, the German government took command of Fokker’s factory, but the aviator remained in charge as director and designer of most of the aircraft that came out of it. After the war’s end, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to build any aircraft or aircraft engines. In 1919 Fokker returned to the Netherlands and started a new aircraft company. His nickname became “the flying Dutchman.”
In or about 1926 or 1927, Fokker moved to the United States, where he established the North American branch of his company, the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation. He eventually sold his American aircraft plants to General Motors, where they became the company’s General Aviation division.
Fokker died at age 49 in New York in 1939 from pneumococcal meningitis, after a three-week-long illness.
And to think, without his design of the Fokker Tri-plane, Snoopy would simply sitting idly on the roof of his dog house.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANTHONY FOKKER!