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Clyde Cessna

Clyde Cessna

Airplane manufacturer. Born: December 5, 1879, Hawthorne, Iowa.  Died: November 20, 1954, Rago, Kansas.

Clyde Vernon Cessna was born December 5, 1879, in Hawthorne, Iowa, to James William and Mary Vandora (Skates) Cessna. The following year the family settled on a farm near Rago in Kingman County.

Cessna worked as an automobile salesman in Enid, Oklahoma, when in January 1911 he saw the Moisant traveling air circus. He was so inspired by aviation that gave up his job and went to work for Queen Aeroplane Company in New York to learn aircraft construction. Cessna soon began to build his own monoplane, the Silverwing. He crashed on his first attempt at flight in Alfalfa, Oklahoma. Cessna was not discouraged and made a successful flight in June 1911. He continued to build monoplanes from 1912 to 1915.

During the winter from 1916 to 1917 Cessna moved his operations to Wichita. Here he made improvements to the designs. During World War I, his operations ceased and Cessna returned home to the work on the family farm. In 1925 he formed a partnership with Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech. Travel Air Manufacturing Company under Cessna’s leadership became one of the nation’s leading manufacturers. The partnership ended two years later and Cessna set out to build a high-performance, single-wing plane that could outperform any biplane.

Clyde V. Cessna, fourth from left, with the first plane he built in Wichita, taken circa 1917 in OklahomaCessna completed his monoplane model “AW” in late 1927, which could reach speeds of 145 miles per hour and fly more than seven hours. Unprepared for the success of the AW, Cessna borrowed money to expand his operation and increase production. His principal customer, the Curtiss Flying Service, went bankrupt at the beginning of the Great Depression. Unable to recover what was owed them, Cessna’s board of directors closed the plant in 1931. Three years later, Cessna re-opened his Wichita plant and by 1936 the company was on firm footing.

Cessna retired and returned to farming. He died November 20, 1954, in Rago. Cessna Aircraft Corporation is among the largest makers of small aircraft in the world.

Entry: Cessna, Clyde

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: June 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.