McDonnell Douglas was a major American aerospace manufacturing corporation and defense contractor, formed by the merger in 1967 of McDonnell Aircraft, which was founded in 1939, and the Douglas Aircraft Company, which was founded in 1921. In 1997 it was merged with Boeing, and you can see the logo of McDonnell Douglas in the current Boeing.
The corporation’s headquarters are located in St. Louis Lambert International Airport, near St. Louis, Missouri. At its peak in the mid-1990s, McDonnel Douglas employed 132500 people.
First, let’s talk about McDonnell Aircraft company. It was founded by James Smith McDonnell on July 6th, 1939, and was best known for its military fighters, including F-4 Phantom II, and crewed spacecraft including the Mercury capsule and Gemini capsule.
It was not the first company started by McDonnell as he founded J.S. McDonnell & Associates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1928 to produce small aircraft for family use, but the economic depression from 1929 ruined his plans and the company collapsed. After he founded the new company in 1939, World War II started, and it was a major boost to the new company that grew from 15 employees in 1939 to 5000 by the end of the war. Even though McDonnell developed the LBD-1 Gargoyle guided missile for US Navy during WWII, McDonnel suffered, after the war, with an end of government orders and a surplus of aircraft. Once again, a war, the Korean War, helped push McDonnell into a major fighter supply role. The company produced the successful FH-1 Phantom in the post-war era. The Phantom introduced McDonnell’s telltale design with engines placed forward under the fuselage and exiting just behind the wing, a layout that was used successfully on the F2H Banshee, F3H Demon, and the F-101 Voodoo. David S. Lewis joined the company as Chief of Aerodynamics in 1946. He led the development of the legendary F-4 Phantom II in 1954, which was introduced into service in 1960. Lewis became Executive Vice President in 1958, and finally became President and Chief Operating Officer in 1962.
Moreover, McDonnell made several missiles, experienced with hypersonic flight, and research that enabled them to gain a substantial share of NASA projects Mercury and Gemini. Meanwhile, Douglas Aircraft was reeling from cash flow problems and development costs. It was also having a hard time meeting demand. The two companies began sounding each other out about a merger in 1963. On paper, they were a good match. Douglas’ civilian business would have been more than enough to allow McDonnell to withstand any downturns in military procurement, while the cash flow from McDonnell’s military contracts would have given Douglas badly needed security. Douglas formally accepted McDonnell’s offer in December 1966, and the two firms officially merged on April 28, 1967, as the McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC).
After the merger with Boeing in August 1997, McDonnell Douglas’s legacy product programs include F-15 Eagle, AV-8B Harrier II, F/A-18Hornet, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Meanwhile, Douglas Company was founded by Donald Wills Douglas Sr. on July 22, 1921, in Santa Monica, California. An early claim to fame was the first circumnavigation of the world by air in Douglas airplanes in 1924. In 1923, the U.S. Army Air Service was interested in carrying out a mission to circumnavigate the Earth for the first time by aircraft, a program called “World Flight”. Donald Douglas proposed a modified Douglas DT to meet the Army’s needs. The modified aircraft known as the Douglas World Cruiser (DWC), also was the first major project for Jack Northrop who designed the fuel system for the series. After the prototype was delivered in November 1923, upon the successful completion of tests on 19 November, the Army commissioned Douglas to build four production series aircraft. The four aircraft left Seattle, Washington, on 6 April 1924, flying west, and two of these returned there on 28 September to great acclaim, while one plane had been lost under fog conditions, and another was forced down over the Atlantic and sank. The success of the DWC established the Douglas Aircraft Company among the major aircraft companies of the world and led it to adopt the motto “First Around the World – First the World Around”.
Douglas Aircraft designed and built a wide variety of aircraft for the U.S. military, including the Navy, Army Air Forces, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
The company initially built torpedo bombers for the U.S. Navy, but it developed several different versions of these aircraft, including reconnaissance planes and airmail aircraft. Within five years, the company was building about 100 aircraft annually.
In 1934, Douglas produced a commercial twin-engine transport plane, the Douglas DC-2, followed by the famous DC-3 in 1936. The wide range of aircraft produced by Douglas included airliners, light and medium bombers, fighter aircraft, transports, reconnaissance aircraft, and experimental aircraft.
The company is most famous for the “DC” (Douglas Commercial) series of commercial aircraft, including what is often regarded as the most significant transport aircraft ever made: the Douglas DC-3, which was also produced as a military transport known as the C-47 Skytrain or “Dakota” in British service. Many Douglas aircraft have long service lives.
During World War II, Douglas joined the BVD (Boeing-Vega-Douglas) consortium to produce the B-17 Flying Fortress. After the war, Douglas built another Boeing design under license, the B-47 Stratojet turbojet-powered bomber, using a government-owned factory in Marietta, Georgia.
World War II was a major boost for Douglas. Douglas ranked fifth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. The company produced almost 30,000 aircraft from 1942 to 1945, and its workforce swelled to 160,000. The company produced a number of aircraft including the C-47 Skytrain, the DB-7 (known as the A-20, Havoc, or Boston), the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, and the A-26 Invader.
After the war, Douglas Aircraft had to end governmental contracts and they were left with a surplus of aircraft and they cut nearly 100.000 jobs. Later, USAF established Project RAND (research and development) in order to take a look into long-range planning of future weapons, and in 1946 this project was granted to Douglas.
Douglas continued to develop new aircraft, including the successful four-engine Douglas DC-6 (1946) and its last propeller-driven commercial aircraft, the Douglas DC-7 (1953). The company had moved into jet propulsion, producing its first for the U.S. Navy — the straight-winged F3D Skyknight in 1948 and then the more “jet age” style F4D Skyray in 1951. Douglas also made commercial jets, producing the Douglas DC-8 in 1958 to compete with the new Boeing 707. Douglas was a pioneer in related fields, such as ejection seats, air-to-air missiles, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, launch rockets, bombs, and bomb racks.
In 1984 the company purchased Hughes Helicopters Inc. From the estate of Howard Hughes. In the 1970s the company began diversifying with the acquisition of companies engaged in data processing, satellite communications, information services, and the manufacture of electronic devices.
In the end, what gave the boost to McDonnell Douglas, wars, was the main factor that ended their existence. After receiving contracts during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the 1990 fall of USSR, which ended the Cold War, was the main factor for the contraction of U.S. defense industries, therefore Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas and used their intel to develop a stronger international company.
If you want to see more about the legacy of this company check out this video.