The life story of Robert Gross is a prime example of the risks and opportunities of capitalism. The 1929 Stock Market Crash and its accompanying depression had already destroyed his Viking Flying Boat Company when he purchased the bankrupt Lockheed Company for $40,000 in 1932. The gamble paid off handsomely, as Gross lifted the company out of the red and, within ten years pushed the Lockheed’s yearly sales to nearly $150 million.
- A true entrepreneur, Gross invested in the Stearman Aircraft Company in 1928, then in 1929 formed the Viking Flying Boat Company. In 1931 he joined Varney Speed Lanes, a pioneering commercial airline, but his most important acquisition was acquiring the assets to the Lockheed Aircraft Company in 1932.
- Lockheed, with Gross as chairman and treasurer, received international recognition with the Module 10, 12 and 14 Electra monoplanes.
- In 1938, Gross as president of Lockheed negotiated a vital contract with the British for Hudson bombers.
- During World War II, Lockheed built P-38 Lightings and the C-69 Constellation and the P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.
- In 1956, Gross became CEO and Chairman of Lockheed and developed into a giant aerospace complex, including aircraft production, rocket propulsion, missiles and spacecraft.
Robert Ellsworth Gross, the man who bought the bankrupt Lockheed Company and made it an aviation giant, was born in West Newton, Massachusetts, on May 11th, 1897.
A 1919 graduate of Harvard, Gross began work as a runner for a Boston investment banking firm. He progressed rapidly and transferred in his career from New York and Boston to London. Gross saw, through his extensive travels, the desirability and potential of the dawning air age. Because of this insight, he became a banking specialist in aviation investments, a position from which he later resigned to devote his full personal time and investments to the field of aviation.
His initial aviation investment was in the Stearman Aircraft Co., which was later purchased by United Aircraft and Transportation Company. Gross earned a substantial profit from this merger. Other investments included the Viking Flying Boat Co., the New Haven Air Terminal Co. and a merger with the Bourdan Aircraft Corp. of Providence, Rhode Island. In June of 1932, Gross and his associates purchased Lockheed out of receivership for $40,000. He initially directed Lockheed’s efforts toward civilian aviation needs, saying, “The one market that will not fail us is the American Public.” But the horrors of World War II were to cause Lockheed to change its philosophy and experience the greatest industrial growth record ever recorded in American history.
Between 1937 and 1941, Gross led Lockheed from the fifth ranked aircraft manufacturer to the first, multiplied the work force 40 times and increased sales by $140 million. For more than a quarter century, Robert Gross continued to instill his philosophy of “the horizons are absolutely unlimited” into the Depression-born aircraft company. During his tenure, Lockheed developed programs for missiles, space exploration, ship building and ocean systems, rocket propulsion and electronics along with the providing of valuable contributions for the continued development of today’s modern aircraft.
Robert Ellsworth Gross, the chief executive and chairman of Lockheed, died September 5th, 1961 from pancreatic cancer.
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