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Curtiss-Wright Corporation

Curtiss-Wright Corporation
Item# 599bl
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Curtiss-Wright Corporation
Curtiss-Wright came into existence July 5, 1929, the result of a merger of 12 different companies associated with Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company of Buffalo, New York, and Wright Aeronautical of Dayton, Ohio. The company was headquartered in Buffalo, New York. With $75 million in capital, it was at the time the largest aviation company in the country.

There were three main divisions: the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division, which manufactured airframes; the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, which produced aeronautical engines; and the Curtiss-Wright Propeller Division, which manufactured propellers. After 1929, most engines produced by the new company were known as Wrights, while most aircraft were given the Curtiss name, with a few exceptions.

Throughout the 1930s, Curtiss-Wright designed and built a variety of aircraft for military, commercial, and private markets. But it was the Wright engine division and the longstanding relationship with the US military that would help the company through the difficult years of the Great Depression. In 1937, the company developed the P-36 fighter aircraft, resulting in the largest peacetime aircraft order ever given by the Army Air Corps. Curtiss-Wright also sold the P-36 to many foreign countries, where they were successfully used in the early days of World War II.

During World War II, Curtiss-Wright employed roughly 180,000 workers and produced 146,000 aircraft propellers, 280,000 airplane engines, and more than 29,000 aircraft. During this period, it became the second largest company in the United States, with annual revenue surpassing $1 billion for two consecutive years (behind only General Motors). The prolific aircraft production tally included almost 14,000 P-40 fighters, made famous by their use by Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers in China, over 3,000 Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft, and later in the war, over 7,000 SB2C Helldivers. Its most visible success came with the P-40 fighter, variously known as Tomahawk, Kittyhawk, and Warhawk, of which nearly 14,000 were built between 1940 and 1944 at the main production facility in Buffalo, New York. Major aircraft production was at Buffalo, with other airframe plants at Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky. Engine and propeller production was at various plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Curtiss-Wright failed to make the transition to design and production of jet aircraft, despite several attempts. During the war the company hadn't invested as much as it should have in research and development, having to spend most of its resources keeping-up with wartime production orders. This was especially true in the first few years of the war, when Curtiss-Wright had most of the government aviation contracts, and was producing about as many aircraft as the rest of the industry combined. This allowed other companies the time to design more advanced aircraft and slowly ramp-up their production lines. Aviation technology was progressing very rapidly then, and a year or two of technology lag made all the difference. The final nail in the coffin was the choice of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion over the XF-87 Blackhawk; after the F-87 was cancelled 10 October 1948, Curtiss-Wright shut down its entire Aeroplane Division and sold the assets to North American Aviation.

While this marked Curtiss-Wright's departure from preeminence in the aviation industry, one notable spin-off involved Curtiss-Wright's flight research laboratory, founded in 1943 near the main plant at the Buffalo airport. During divestiture of the airframe division, the lab was given to Cornell University along with a cash gift to finish construction of a transonic wind tunnel. Cornell Aeronautical Labs, or CAL as it was known, was eventually spun-off from the university as a private company, Calspan Corporation, which has been responsible for many subsequent innovations in flight and safety research. For an aircraft company that failed largely due to lack of sufficient research and development during World War II, it is ironic that Curtiss-Wright's flight research division was one of the only parts of the once-huge aviation conglomerate to survive to the present day.

After the Government gave the development of the Whittle jet engine to GE, the company concentrated on reciprocating engines and propeller production for military transport and civilian airliners. With the approaching twilight of the big piston aircraft engine, Curtiss-Wright needed new design inspiration. For a brief time, Curtiss-Wright licensed rights to the Wankel rotary engine from NSU in 1958 as a possible aircraft power plant, but also as an automobile engine intended for the AMC Pacer. For this major innovative engineering project, Curtiss-Wright relied extensively on the design leadership of NSU-Wankel engineer Max Bentele. Design difficulties were challenging, and eventually the Wankel project was shelved.

In 1956, financially strapped automaker Studebaker-Packard Corporation entered into a management agreement with Curtiss-Wright as a means by which the nations fifth largest automobile manufacturer could avoid declaring insolvency. The relationship lasted until 1959 at which time Curtiss-Wright withdrew from the agreement.

The shift of civilian aircraft to jets which the company predicted would not happen as late as 1952 when it had designed a propeller for the B-52 bomber (originally designed as a turboprop) left the company with little of its old business, and during the 1960s it shifted to components for aircraft and other types of equipment, such as nuclear submarines.

Certificate: Common Stock, issued in the 1960s

Printer: De La Rue Bank Note Company

Dimensions: 8 (h) x 12 (w)

State: DE-Delaware

Subject Matter: Airplane Manufacturers | Aviation and Aerospace

Vignette Topic(s): Allegorical Featured | Allegorical Mercury | Astronomy Featured

Condition: Vertical fold lines, punch hole and stamp cancels in the signature areas and body, toning and edge faults from age.

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