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Columbus History: The Life of Eddie Rickenbacker

Doug Motz Doug Motz
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It is interesting to note that in Columbus, only three buildings are registered on the National Register of Historic Landmarks – the Statehouse, the Ohio Theatre, and the boyhood home of Eddie Rickenbacker at 1376 East Livingston Avenue near Miller Avenue.

Captain Eddie, as he came to be known after earning the additional moniker of America’s “Ace of Aces” after downing 26 enemy aircraft during World War 1, was already a well-known race car driver.  In 1910, he raced in a Columbus-Firestone sponsored by the Columbus Buggy Company where he also had worked as an engineer and salesman and in 1911 raced in the first ever Indianapolis 500. He became a professional driver in 1912 and averaged $40,000.00 a year until enlisting in the Army to serve in WWI.

After returning from the war as a hero, in 1921 he would become part owner of an automobile company bearing his name – The Rickenbacker Motor Company that featured the “Hat in the Ring” symbol from his WWI fighter squadron.

In 1927, he raised $700,000.00 to purchase the Indianapolis Speedway and from 1928 until 1938, he was a Vice-President of General Motors and PR man for their aeronautic interests.

In 1938 he purchased Eastern Airlines and became President until stepping down in 1953 to become Chairman of the Board until his retirement in 1963. During his early tenure as President, he moved their headquarters into 10 Rockefeller Center where the structure became known as the Eastern Airlines building.

Movies were made of his life, he wrote several books and was even awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Hoover in 1930. Columbus’ Lockbourne Airbase was renamed Rickenbacker Airbase in 1974 after his death in 1973.

Not bad for a boy from Columbus who left school at age 13 after the death of his father to help take care of his mother and seven brothers and sisters.

Not bad for a boy whose only formal schooling came from taking International Correspondence School Classes emphasizing automobile internal combustion engines.

Not bad for a boy who was the former head of the “Horse Head” gang – so named for the sign hanging above Columbus Driving Park across the street from his home.

To find out more about the early life of this important Columbus native, the Columbus Historical Society and Rickenbacker-Woods inc. will host a free talk about his early life in Columbus on Wednesday May 27 at 7:00 in the auditorium of the Main Library downtown located at 96 South Grant.

For more information, please visit www.columbushistory.org or call to RSVP at 224-0822.

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