Dusty Relics of Arkansas History

November 11-17, 2019

By Bob Denman


James S. McDonnell


James Smith McDonnell was an aviator, engineer and businessman. The company he founded – McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, now McDonnell Douglas – is one of the leading aircraft and aeronautical companies in the entire world.


He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Physics and went on to receive his Aeronautical Engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After stops at Ford Motor Company, the Huff Daland Airplane Company, the Great Lakes Aircraft Company, and the Glenn Martin Company, he founded McDonnell Aircraft in 1938 in St. Louis, Missouri. His name has become synonymous with St. Louis, and why not. 


His company designed and built the F-4 phantom twin engine fighter in service from Viet Nam through the Gulf War. Today’s F-15 Eagle and F/A 18 Hornet, both designed to maintain air supremacy as fighter and attack aircraft, are the backbone of United States airpower and both built by McDonnell’s company. His contributions to the aircraft industry include commercial aircraft we have and continue to fly today including the DC-10 and MD-80. Let’s not forget his contributions to the space race with the design and manufacture of the Mercury and Gemini space craft. He served as a major contractor to NASA on the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs as well.


McDonnell Park, McDonnell Planetarium, McDonnell Hall, and McDonald Boulevard all in St. Louis recognize his many contributions to his adopted home town. 


I said adopted hometown and yes, here is where the story finally gets interesting. 


His father moved from Alabama in 1881, borrowed $3,000 to open a general store and begin a farming operation near Altheimer, Arkansas. Successful at both ventures he moved his family, including James born in 1899, to Little Rock for educational opportunities not found in Altheimer. Young James Smith McDonnell, the leading aerospace industrialist of the 20th century, grew up on Hill Road in Little Rock, delivered the Arkansas Gazette by horseback and eventually graduated from Little Rock High School in 1917. From there he went on to Princeton and eventually transformed the world of military aviation.


Former Little Rock resident James Smith McDonnell … a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History.  


  • Bob Denman
    Bob Denman