Biographical / Historical
James Vernon Martin (1885-1956) was an aviator and inventor during the early days of aviation. He joined the Merchant Marine (1900) before attending the University of Virginia and Harvard (graduate degree, 1912). While at Harvard he organized the Harvard Aeronautical Society (1910), served as its first director, and, through the Society, organized the first international air meet in the United States (1910). He traveled to England in January 1911 for flight training and received Royal Aero Club F.A.I. Certificate #55.
While in England, Martin met and married Lily Irvine. Born in South Africa to Scottish parents, Irvine learned to fly from Martin, making her first successful flight at Hendon in 1911. In July 1914, with Tony Jannus as her mechanic, Irvine completed one of the largest flights across water from Sandusky, Ohio, to Euclid over Lake Erie, breaking a speed record set by Glenn Curtiss in 1910.
After returning to the U.S. in June 1911, Martin traveled the exhibition circuit for several years. He made the first flights in Alaska in 1913, accompanied by Irvine. During 1915 he flew test flights for the Aeromarine Company. In 1917, he formed the Martin Aeroplane Company in Elyria, OH on the strength of nine aeronautical patents, including his automatic stabilizer (1916) and retractable landing gear (1916). He joined the Merchant Marine and became Master of the SS Lake Fray in May 1919, earning the Order of St. Stanislaus from Russia in appreciation for assistance rendered to the Russian North-Western Army. In 1920 he moved the company to Dayton, OH as Martin Enterprises and offered free use of his patents to the American aeronautical industry, though evaluations of the efficacy of his inventions were mixed. He moved to Garden City (Long Island), NY in 1922, renaming the company as the Martin Aeroplane Factory.
In 1924, Martin sued the United States government and the Manufacturers Aeronautical Association, claiming that they conspired to monopolize the aviation industry. The suit was dismissed in 1926, but Martin continued to press his claims of collusion through the 1930s. Martin also became the assignee for aviation pioneer Augustus M. Herring and attempted to revive claims on Herring's early patents.
During World War II, he worked for the Office of Research and Development before returning to the U.S. Maritime Service in 1944, serving as first mate on a ship and then commanding a troop transport in the Pacific. After he left the service in 1946, he tried to raise interest in a large catamaran flying boat, the Martin "Oceanplane," but failed in the face of the growth in commercial trans-ocean service by conventional aircraft.