The First World War was seminal to the development of military aeronautics and aircraft/aerospace manufacturing in California. While flight innovators Glenn L. Martin and Glenn H. Curtiss made key prewar contributions to military aviation within the state, it was America's entry into the war that was the primary catalyst to the establishment of military air facilities as well as a constellation of small, federally contracted airplane factories within California. Using Sacramento's aviation training school at Mather Field and the airplane factory at North Sacramento's Liberty Iron Works as case studies, this article details the ways that World War I was an early catalyst to the statewide embrace of the seemingly limitless potential of aviation, what many then referred to as “air-mindedness.” An intimate look at both Liberty Iron Works and Mather Field reveals how World War I made Sacramento a martial city, strongly committed to a century of pursuing, and playing host to, military aeronautics and aircraft/aerospace production, as manifested by today's Mather Airport (until 1993, Mather Air Force Base) and aerospace giant Aerojet-General, an early innovator of jet-assisted take-off (JATO) and the indirect progeny of Liberty Iron Works. Several factors related to the advent of World War I—most notably, the promise of economic growth, the allure and mystery of flight, and the local prestige that comes with contributing to national defense—inculcated Sacramentans (and Californians) with an adoration for the military, a sense of regional independence, a reverence for the economic promise of the aircraft and aerospace industry, and an aviation-centered mentality that would endure into the twenty-first century.
From Jennies to JATO: World War I, Sacramento, and the Ascent of an “Air-Minded” California Community
james c. scott is head archivist for Sacramento Public Library's Special Collections. He is a graduate of Marquette University and holds master's degrees in European history and library and information science. He is coordinator for the library's “Valley to Vietnam” oral history project and served on the American Library Association's programming team for the Ken Burns documentary “The Vietnam War” (2017). He is coauthor of World War I and the Sacramento Valley (2016) and World War II Sacramento (2018).
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James C. Scott; From Jennies to JATO: World War I, Sacramento, and the Ascent of an “Air-Minded” California Community. California History 1 August 2020; 97 (3): 122–158. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2020.97.3.122
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