Engines of Our Ingenuity

No. 1781:
FLORA LOUGHEAD AND HER SONS

by John H. Lienhard

Today, airplanes and Flora Loughead. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Flora Haines was born in Milwaukee in 1855. She graduated from Lincoln University in Illinois and began writing for various western magazines and San Francisco papers. She also married a Californian and moved to San Francisco, where she wrote her first book, Libraries of California -- now a collectors' item.

But the marriage ended. In 1886 she wrote a Hand-book of Natural Science and then married John Loughead (spelled L O U G H E A D). After that, she became a prominent fiction writer, with books like The Man Who was Guilty and The Black Curtain. Her marriage to Loughead also ended, and she married a third time when she was 53.

Her son by the first marriage, Victor, was a noted American automotive engineer, strongly interested in flight. Soon after the Wright brothers flew, he wrote two books on airplanes. He worked with California inventor John Montgomery on airplane experiments.

Victor's younger half-brothers, Allan and Malcolm Loughead, followed those interests. Allan became an automobile mechanic and then learned to fly. He did some early exhibition stunt flying -- horribly dangerous work. But he looked at those hopelessly unsafe airplanes and realized he could do better. He went back to San Francisco and talked Malcolm into going into the airplane-building business. Working part time, Allan and Malcolm Loughead produced a little seaplane -- a biplane with one pontoon.

That modest effort turned into a major airplane factory, making bigger and better seaplanes. They named the company after themselves and, in 1926, legally changed their own and their company's name from the old Scottish spelling of Loughead into Lockheed. The rest, I suppose, is history.

But the shadowy figure of their mother, Flora Haines Loughead, catches my attention -- in and out of marriages, always writing. An 1898 article in a Catholic magazine tells us something about her. She talks about San Francisco's first cathedral, St. Mary's Church.

The Jesuits had abandoned the church to a neighborhood near Market Street. Paulist fathers made it a base for work among the poor and for teaching English to Chinese laborers, while the neighborhood slowly died of crime and prostitution. Now she points her accusing finger at city hall with barely-bridled fury.

That same focus and intensity was driving the new technology of flight. And, by 1900, both Flora and a younger woman, Harriet Quimby, were writing feature articles for the San Francisco Chronicle. Quimby also took up flying and was the first woman to fly the English Channel. She died in an air show ten weeks afterward.

I don't know whether they talked to one another, but I'll bet they did. For Flora Loughead, this mother of the Lockheed company, overlooked by history, left her mark on the world around her. Social reform, suffrage, and technology, all running in overdrive, those were the forces that formed the new twentieth century.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)


Lockheed Horizons, Issue Twelve, The Lockheed Corporation, 7 June 1983, pp. 4-11.

See also the articles on Flora Haines Loughead in The National Cyclopaedia and The Dictionary of American Biography.

F. H. Loughead, The Old Cathedral: St. Marys in San Francisco, CA. The Ave Maria, Vol. XLVII, No. 24, December 10, 1898.

Model G Hydro-Aeroplane
The first Lockheed airplane, Model G Hydro-Aeroplane, 1913


The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H. Lienhard.