Childhood & Early Life
Anthony Fokker was born on April 6th, 1890 in Kediri, the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia).
Herman Fokker, his father, was a Dutch coffee plantation owner in the Dutch East Indies at the time of his birth. Looking to provide his children with a Dutch upbringing, Herman moved his two children home to the Netherlands and settled in Haarlem.
Fokker was disinterested in schooling during his youth. This led him to leave high school before completing his education.
He showed an early interest in mechanics. He preferred making things and experimenting with different aeroplane designs.
After hearing about the Wilbur Wright flight exhibitions in France, in 1908, he developed an interest in aeroplanes. He began to focus his designs on aircrafts.
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In 1910, he was sent to the ‘Bingen Technical School’ in Germany by his father to train as an automobile mechanic. However, he transferred to ‘Erste-deutsche Automobile-Faschschule’ in Mainz due to his interest in aircraft mechanics.
In 1910, Fokker designed and built his first plane, called ‘Die Spinne’ (The Spider), an open monoplane. Shortly after construction, the plane was destroyed when his business partner flew it into a tree.
The unfortunate destruction of his ‘Die Spinne’ aircraft led to the building of a second prototype, simply called ‘Spin.’ He used this aircraft to acquire his own pilot’s license.
On August 31, 1911, he came into limelight by flying his third version of the ‘Spin’ aircraft around the Sint-Bavokerk tower in Haarlem. The date coincided with Queen Wilhlmina’s birthday, adding to the public attraction.
With his father’s financing, he moved to Johannisthal, close to Berlin, and founded his first company called ‘Fokker Aeroplanbau.’
Johannisthal was a mecca of aircraft factories and enthusiasts. In order to get the upper hand, he towed the parts of one of his Scout plane models to a nearby German military base. Once outside, he assembled the plane and was airborne in only a few minutes. This impressed German army officials, who ordered two planes on the spot.
At the start of World War I in 1914, the German government assumed control of the newly founded company. They kept Fokker on as director and designer for the ‘Luftstreitkrafte’, the ‘Imperial German Air Service.’
During the war, Fokker delivered over 700 military planes to the German government. These aircrafts included the ‘Fokker Eindecker’ and the infamous tri-plane, the ‘Fokker Dr. I’, which was flown by Manfred Von Richthofen (‘The Red Barron’).
In 1915, Fokker developed a Scout plane with a mechanism that would coordinate the firing of the mounted machine gun with the rotation of the propeller. This mechanism ensured that the bullets would never impact the propeller function. After a successful piloting by Max Immelmann, the famous German fighter pilot, the Germans ordered mass quantities to be put into battle.
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After the German surrender at the end of the First World War, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, liquidation of Fokker’s factories was ordered. To avoid losing everything, he smuggled hundreds of his designs into Holland. He re-launched his factory in Veere, calling it the Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek (Dutch Aircraft Factory).
In 1927, he began working in the United States when his tri-motor aircrafts controlled the early commercial flight industry. He founded the ‘Atlantic Aircraft Company’.
The ‘Atlantic Aircraft Company’ became the ‘General Aviation Corporation’ in 1931, when Fokker sold his aircraft plants to ‘General Motors.’
Fokker introduced a fighter biplane in 1916 that included synchronized machine guns. This was in reaction to the French acquiring his earlier Scout model containing one machine gun and mechanism.
Fokker’s D-7 plane became one of the most maneuverable fighter planes available during the First World War. It was unanimously selected by German officials for a rush production and immediate deployment.
Fokker’s American-based factory produced the Fokker F-VII airplane named the ‘Josephine Ford’, after Henry Ford’s granddaughter. This plane was flown over the North Pole by Lieutenant Commander Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett on May 9th, 1926.
Personal Life & Legacy
Fokker married Sophie Marie Elisabeth Von Morgen on March 25th, 1919. Their marriage ended in divorce only four years later.
He remarried in 1927. His second wife was Canadian Violet Eastmen. Two years later he became a widower, after his wife fell from their hotel suite window. The police report originally cited suicide, but was adjusted to read vertigo victim as per Fokker’s request.
Fokker died of pneumococcal meningitis, on 23 December 1939, at the age of 49, in New York City