If not for a series of mispronunciations, Maryland’s largest company might have a different name today.
The Bethesda contractor could be Loughead Martin, not Lockheed Martin.
That’s just one tidbit of little-known information surrounding the military and aerospace giant, as this month the company celebrates a century of developing aircraft, high-tech systems and other products.
Lockheed’s beginnings date to August 1912, when aviation pioneer Glenn Luther Martin formed the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Los Angeles. Building his first plane in a rented Methodist church, Martin initially financed the business through the stunt circuit, where he entertained crowds in fields by flying his planes. He performed as the Flying Dude, according to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
Today, the company founded by the Flying Dude has annual revenues approaching $50 billion and is No. 58 on the Fortune 500. It’s a major builder of fighter planes and bombers for the U.S. and other nations. It has contributed rockets to groundbreaking NASA missions. And as it enters its second century amid federal budget uncertainties, it continues a diversification push that has led to new developments in information, energy and other technologies.
Lockheed's presence in Montgomery County has done a great deal to help economic development efforts, said Steven A. Silverman, director of the county's Department of Economic Development.
"Having such a major corporation here sends a message that we are business friendly," Silverman said. "We take a lot of heat in comparison to Fairfax County (Va.), without people looking at the facts. We have several major corporate giants in this county, and we're very supportive of them."
In 1915, Martin hired Donald Douglas, who later formed his own successful aircraft company, as chief engineer. A year later, Martin merged his business with the Wright Co. to form the Wright-Martin Aircraft Co., a year after famed early aviator Orville Wright sold the Wright Co.
Martin was unhappy with the merged company, according to the flight commission. He pulled out of the company in 1917 to form the second Glenn L. Martin Co. in Cleveland, where Douglas rejoined him.
“He was a self-taught engineer and entrepreneur,” said Ginny Vasan, vice president of corporate identity for Lockheed. “He was very good to his employees and really thought about the long-term welfare of his employees. He established a foundation that is still in existence, which is supporting some former employees of the Glenn L. Martin Co.”
In 1928, Martin moved the enterprise to Maryland, opening a long-running aircraft manufacturing company in Middle River. Several reasons factored into his decision to move, including being close to the nation’s capital, having access to a healthy rail infrastructure, the availability of open land to build a factory and airfield, and year-round access to open waterways, Vasan said.
The latter was important because Martin’s military customers wanted sea-based aircraft, she said.
Not ‘Log-head’The same year Martin started his early business, a pair of other early aviators, brothers Allan and Malcolm Loughead, formed the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Co., also in California. They set up shop out of a garage near the San Francisco waterfront, constructing seaplanes that broke speed and distance records for over-water flights.
At the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the brothers took visitors for rides in their Model G Hydro-Aeroplane, charging $10 apiece for a 10-minute ride. Within two months, they had given rides to some 600 passengers without an accident and made a profit of $4,000, enough to fund the development of their next venture, the F-1 seaplane, according to Lockheed archives.
In 1916, the brothers changed the name of their business to the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Co. and hired draftsman John “Jack” Northrop — who later started the company that merged to become Northrop Grumman — to work on the F-1. The 10-passenger seaplane debuted in 1918, but the end of World War I ended that market, according to the flight commission. The business survived for a couple more years by building Curtiss HS-2L flying boats and working as a subcontractor, but went bankrupt in 1921.
Reportedly tired of people mispronouncing his name “Log-head,” Malcolm Loughead soon legally changed his name to Lockheed and started the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Co. Allan copied the Lockheed name when he formed the Lockheed Aircraft Co. in 1926, but he waited to formally change his own name for a few more years.
“They apparently wanted a name that was easier to pronounce,” Vasan said. “Log-head doesn’t sound too cool.”
Had the brothers retained the Loughead name by the time the renamed Lockheed Corp. merged with Martin Marietta in 1995, “who knows, they might have chosen to put the Martin name first,” Vasan said.
Lockheed Aircraft gained fame by selling its Vega airplane to San Francisco Examiner publisher George Hearst and was used in the Wilkins expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
Supporting world wars, University of Maryland
In 1928, the Navy awarded Martin’s company a contract to build a biplane dive bomber that could handle a torpedo and a 1,000-pound bomb.
“It would be the first Navy dive bomber that could carry a payload this large,” according to the Navy’s Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons.
Martin, who had developed a bomber for the Army during World War I, built some prototypes, and the XT5M-1 first flew in 1929. It was renamed the BM-1 for production.
Martin also built the first power-operated, revolving gun turret, a key feature on U.S. aircraft during World War II.
“At the height of World War II, his company employed over 50,000 people,” said Robert Byrnes, executive director of the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum in Middle River.
That museum opened in 1990 at Martin State Airport, displaying not just artifacts from Martin and his company but models of aircraft and rockets developed in Maryland. From 1909 to 1960, the Glenn L. Martin Co. produced more than 80 different types of aircraft, including dozens of Boeing B-29s, according to the museum. Besides Douglas, the Martin Co. provided experience for others who struck out on their own in big ways, including William Boeing, Lawrence Bell and James S. McDonnell.
Martin remained active in the company through the 1940s, before dying in 1955. He did not marry or have children but was a major donor to the University of Maryland. In 1949, the university renamed its engineering college the Glenn L. Martin College of Engineering and Aeronautical Sciences, which was changed to the Glenn L. Martin Institute of Technology in 1955.
Lockheed and Martin merge
Lockheed Aircraft reorganized during the Great Depression and also became a major supplier for the U.S. military during World War II. Its P-38 fighter became the first American-made aircraft to shoot down a German plane during the war.
The businesses branched out after the war into space, with the first flight of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft in 1954 and the Martin Bold Orion ballistic missile in 1958.
In 1961, the Glenn L. Martin Co. merged with American-Marietta Corp. to form Martin Marietta Corp. American-Marietta Corp. had its headquarters in Bethesda, so the newly formed Martin Marietta became based there that year, Vasan said.
Lockheed’s Agena spacecraft and Martin Marietta’s Titan-launched Gemini VIII spacecraft become the first to dock in space in 1965. Much more recently, Lockheed Martin participated in the NASA mission that landed the Curiosity rover on Mars this week.
In 1977, Lockheed Aircraft was renamed Lockheed Corp. to reflect its non-aviation activities, which included the development of the Hubble Space Telescope.
In 1995, Lockheed, then based in Calabasas, Calif., merged with Martin Marietta, which was in Bethesda, in a deal valued at about $10 billion.
Bethesda was chosen as the headquarters because it was closer to the company’s major customers at the Pentagon, Vasan said.
“That made the most sense,” she said.
Some controversyThe combined company quickly became Maryland’s largest, growing to $46.5 billion in revenue last year, about double from $23 billion in 1995.
However, as sales have grown, its work force has dwindled, down from about 160,000 in 1996 to 123,000 in early 2012. The cuts began almost immediately after the 1995 merger, with an announcement that year that 12 facilities and laboratories and 26 field offices would close, affecting 12,000 jobs, according to Lockheed’s 1995 annual report.
The company has been hit by scandals, too. Those included agreeing to pay the federal government $2 million last year to settle allegations that a team led by Science Applications International Corp. that included Lockheed received privileged information during the bidding process on a contract to support the Naval Oceanographic Major Shared Resource Center in Mississippi.
Lockheed Martin also has been the focus of a county controversy in recent years over whether it deserves a break from paying taxes on its conference center and hotel for employees and contractors.
Commemorating 100 years
With Aug. 16 as the exact date of incorporation of the original Glenn L. Martin Co., Lockheed employees plan to celebrate that day in various ways. At the Bethesda headquarters, employees will send notes to troops on special historical postcards, Vasan said.
On Aug. 18, the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum will celebrate National Aviation Day with an emphasis on Martin’s company. A reproduction of a 1911 Ely-Curtiss Pusher that Martin used as a model for his first airplane will be flown up from a Virginia museum. Its appearance is being underwritten by Lockheed.
And on Aug. 20, Lockheed executives and local officials will meet at 11:30 a.m. at the Middle River museum to present a donation of $25,000 to the museum to restore and display a Martin machine gun turret. There will be a lunch and museum tour for employees and guests.
All in all, it’s been a long, complex, amazing company history, Vasan said.
“That’s part of the ebb and flow of our industry,” she said. “We’re here today due to a metamorphosis of companies.”