In 1950, Pratt & Whitney founder Frederick Rentschler took the time to sit down and pen some thoughts about the company he created. His rather short manuscript, entitled "An Account of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company 1925-1950," details the evolution of his enterprise.
Rentschler also offers a few perspectives about his boyhood home of Hamilton, Ohio, and why he eventually chose Connecticut to bring his idea to fruition. It seems initially, however, that the Princeton graduate thought he would return to his roots to embark on his professional career, writing, "It had never previously had occurred to me that I would do anything other than return to Hamilton, Ohio."
He wouldn't, and Connecticut would benefit because of it.
HAMILTON, OHIO, AND THE RENTSCHLER NAME
Hamilton is a small but bustling city in the southwest corner of the "Buckeye State." A vibrant community filled with friendly people determined to build upon the success of the city's past. And there has been great success here, the cornerstone of that found in industry.
"If you wanted it, it was made here in Hamilton," said Kathy Creighton, executive director for the Butler County Historical Society, located in Hamilton.
What may surprise you is that a native son who changed an industry – is rarely mentioned on the lips of those who call Hamilton home.
On the corner of Dayton and North Seventh streets sits a classic home that once served as the residence of one of the most influential families in Hamilton's history. German-immigrant and successful industrialist George Adam Rentschler moved to his brick mansion in 1901. He and his wife Phoebe raised five children here, one that included a future aviation pioneer, Frederick Brant Rentschler, born in November of 1887.
George Rentschler, called 'Ol Adam by family members, was at one time a shop foreman who later invested $200 in his own foundry in 1875, partnering with other entrepreneurs to create a manufacturing empire. Perhaps he is best known as the president of the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Company, overseeing the construction of steam and diesel engines. But an empty factory with a worn cornerstone bearing the Rentschler name is all that remains of a once mighty manufacturing power.
"Hooven-Owens-Rentschler was one of the big foundries that was here in Hamilton, they were connected to Beckett paper, and they made a lot of the machinery that ran the machines that made the industry," said Creighton.
During 'Ol Adam's prime, the Rentschler name was one that garnered respect. "Ol Adam" kept growing his enterprise, and in 1904, constructed what was the tallest building in Hamilton, the eight-story Rentschler building. Five years later, he would embark into the world of automobiles, creating The Republic Motor Car Company, a short-lived venture that would end in 1919. Frederick Rentschler was the company's secretary and treasurer, sending personalized letters to customers confirming the purchase of the, quote, "classiest of all" automobiles. A tribute to the classic car is in the form of art, a metallic sculpture, anchored next to a busy Hamilton intersection.
To get a sense of why – or why not – the Rentschler manufacturing legacy isn't celebrated more, perhaps it's best to get a view from – a Rentschler.
Not far from where industry once boomed, in a scenic countryside close to Hamilton's downtown, is the quaint home of Thomas Rentschler, a retired banker and Frederick's great-nephew.
"Nobody thought we were more important than the next guy," Rentschler said, sitting in a comfortable chair in his den.
Books on Ohio history are neatly organized on a shelf, but you would be hard pressed to find anything that boasts about the family name or what has been accomplished. A wedding gift from Frederick and his wife Faye is neatly placed in the dining room. The only mention of flight is on a kitchen country, a recent biography of the Wright brothers. Humility, it seems, is a family value passed down from generation to generation.
"We were who we were. Nobody in our family thought we were more important than the next guy. There was no bragging in my family, no finger pointing, no applauding, it just happened," Rentschler continued.
What is clear is that the manufacturing foundation Frederick Rentschler's father created had a significant impact. While anecdotes of his childhood are few, Pratt & Whitney's founder understood what was necessary to structure a successful manufacturing operation.
"One historian said about Fred Rentschler, he was probably one of the few people early in aviation who not only knew how to run a machine tool, thanks to his father, and run a factory, but also had the business acumen to be able to build a company and make it successful over the long term," said Mark Sullivan, author of "Dependable Engines: The Story of Pratt & Whitney."
But it would a long-term success story that would flourish in Connecticut, rather than Ohio. The Wasp engine, and all the innovations Rentschler helped pioneer after the Wasp, was born on the east coast.
"Maybe he wanted to stand on his own two feet that he did very well," Sullivan said from Pratt & Whitney's hangar museum.
Rentschler would go on to change the world, a bold venture his father questioned.
"I think the direct quote is, 'Damn fool business, mostly for sportsman.' Which is was in the 1920s," Sullivan added.
But Hamilton's own Frederick Brant Rentschler was no fool, rather a man who studied his family success, applying principles he learned in his youth to create a legacy that would change the way we fly. Pratt & Whitney's story begins in Connecticut, but in a way – goes back much farther than that.
"If it wouldn't have been for the Rentschlers the people who worked in those factories wouldn't have had a camper, or a summer vacation. It provided a lot of substance. The kids go to college. That wouldn't have happened without those industrial jobs," said Thomas Rentschler.
And it would be Rentschler's idea – his vision – that created jobs … careers … a legacy … in his adoptive home. A business that he believed would work just about anywhere.
"If we were pioneers, we were not conventionally heading west but down east to a country which none of us knew except as a place where we were going to try to do a job," Rentschler wrote in his book. "It seemed to me that if we ourselves knew what we wanted to do, it should make little difference where we were located."