Donald Wills Douglas, Santa Monica’s largest employer by the 1940s

Karl Gerber

January 1, 2023

Donald Wills Douglas, Santa Monica’s largest employer by the 1940s. In 1920, at age twenty-eight, this MIT graduate formed his own aircraft company in the back of a Santa Monica barbershop. His, “Cloudster” in 1924 was the first aircraft capable of lifting more than its own weight.

By 1924 Douglas Aircraft had moved onto Clover Field (the Santa Monica Airport) which today is the oldest operating airport in Los Angeles County. From that site a pair of Douglas World Cruisers circled the globe in 371 hours.

For years Douglas Aircraft used the advertising slogan, “First to Circle the Globe.”

In 1932 work began for Trans World Airlines (Howard Hughes’ airline). The project was the DC-1 which took twelve passengers 145 miles an hour.

In 1939 Douglas built the Aero Theater on Montana in Santa Monica.

Donald Wills Douglas, Santa Monica’s largest employer by the 1940s | Vintage Los Angeles

Rumor, which this author and his sister are trying to debunk, is the theater was built for Douglas Aircraft employees so they could see movies twenty-four hours a day. Due to the distance from Clover Field, the theater being built before the Second World War, and it being immediately leased out the author believes this rumor is false.

During World War II the Federal Government leased Clover Field from the City of Santa Monica in order to provide national protection to Douglas Aircraft’s operations. More than 10,000 DC-3s (C-47s) were assembled there during World War II. General Eisenhower declared the C-47s were the chief weapons to win the War. During the War Douglas Aircraft produced more than 30,000 aircrafts and employed more than 160,000 workers. Although 100,000 employees were laid off after World War II, a division of Douglas Aircraft called Project RAND began in 1948. This is the present day research company, RAND.

Other Douglas Aircraft achievements were the DC-4, first presidential airplane;

In 1967 Douglas Aircraft merged with McDonnell Corporation. In 1968 Douglas Aircraft operations closed thereby depriving Santa Monica of its largest employer.

Douglas died in 1981. By 1989 McDonnell Douglas was the nation’s largest defense contract.

The first deposition author, Karl Gerber, took was on a McDonnell Douglas whistleblower case. In 1995 Karl Gerber went to the former Playa Del Rey McDonnell Douglas site to see his brother film the movie, Virtuosity.

How many Angelenos have Douglas stories in their family without even thinking about it?