Captain Eddie Rickenbacker: Biography, Quotes & WW1

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Eddie Rickenbacker was a race car driver, racetrack owner, fighter pilot and airline executive. He was called the 'ace of aces' as the top American ace during the First World War.

Background of an Aviator

Eddie Rickenbacker had an unusual career. He began as a race car driver but is best known as the top American fighter pilot in the First World War. His career then stretched over two different fields. He was born in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio to Swiss-immigrant parents. He did not receive much of a formal education. His father died when he was twelve and he left school to work petty jobs to help his mother.

Photo of Eddie Rickenbacker
Photo of Eddie Rickenbacker

Race Car Driver

At age sixteen, Rickenbacker worked for the Frayer-Miller Automobile, Co. as a mechanic. The owner, Lee Frayer, allowed Rickenbacker to race his cars. Rickenbacker then worked for the Columbus Buggy Co., which also made Columbus-Firestone automobiles. In 1911, he raced in the first ever Indy 500 race, but in 1912 he teamed with car-designer Fred Duesenberg to help his racing career. He survived several crashes and, in 1914, set the world speed record at 134 miles per hour. Car racing was lucrative for Rickenbacker - he made $40,000 a year which was a lot in those days. In November 1914 at the Vanderbilt Cup Race in California, he met Glenn Miller who took him in his first airplane ride which got him hooked on flying.

Eddie Rickenbacker in the San Francisco Car Race
Eddie Rickenbacker in San Francisco Car Race

Rickenbacker in the First World War

When the U.S. entered the First World War, Rickenbacker went to Europe to join the air corps. As he put it: 'The excitement of automobile racing did not compare with what I knew must come with aeroplane fighting in France.' However, he had little formal education and at 27 years old, was considered ill-suited and too old for flight school. Given his racing background, Rickenbacker was assigned to General John Pershing's staff in France as a chauffeur. As luck would have it, he was assigned to drive around Colonel Billy Mitchell, an early pioneer in aviation and promoter of air power in combat. Mitchell liked Rickenbacker, and gave him a shot at flying. After flight school he was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron. Rickenbacker was a daring pilot and shot down 26 enemy planes - the highest of any American pilot during the First World War. He earned the nickname 'Ace of Aces' and earned the French Croix de Guerre, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor for his accomplishments.

The 94th Air Squadron. Eddie Rickenbacker is Center Row, Sixth From the Left
94th Air Squadron

Return to Auto Racing

Rickenbacker returned home a celebrity, but he did not embrace this image. He even turned down a $100,000 offer to appear in several Hollywood films. He wanted to work in aviation, but the automotive industry was easier to get into. He secured funding to start his own car company, the Rickenbacker Automobile Company but it went bankrupt in 1927. In 1927, he proudly purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to host the Indy 500 until he sold it in 1945.

Airline Executive

In 1925, he partnered with his 94th squadron buddy, Reed Chambers, to buy Florida Airways, but it failed in 1926. He then worked for Fokker Aircraft Company which was a division of General Motors. In 1938, he managed to purchase Eastern Airlines. Rickenbacker turned Eastern Airlines into a very successful company. It was the most profitable airline throughout most of the 1940s and 1950s. He also outlined a 12-point leadership plan titled 'My Constitution' which worked well as a guide for how Rickenbacker would approach his role in the business. For instance, he created a promotion program for lower-level workers, raised salaries, created the famous 'Great Silver Fleet,' gave stock options to employees and improved weather and radio capabilities. He remained the CEO until 1959 and Chairman of the Board until 1963 when he retired.

Eddie Rickenbacker with Eastern Airlines
Eddie Rickenbacker with Eastern Airlines

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account