Before long, travelers at Lambert Field will look at the factory complex on the airport's northwestern edge and see something jarring: the name "Boeing" overshadowing the name "McDonnell Douglas."
Not quite 60 years ago, an Arkansas transplant brought the name "McDonnell" to Lambert Field. Few people had heard of him or his company.But by 1967, when James S. McDonnell tacked the name "Douglas" onto the corporation that bore his own, Old Mac's name was known in every household here - and to pilots around the world.
Old Mac died of a stroke on Aug. 22, 1980, at age 81.
His company survived him by only 16 years.
The McDonnell Douglas story starts with its last name - Douglas, as in Donald W. Douglas. He was not quite 22 years old when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1920 with $600 in his savings account and a dream in his mind.
He turned that dream into wood, fabric and engine and called it the Cloudster. He wanted his plane to be first to fly around the world. Alas, it got no farther than Texas. But it did something interesting: It lifted a load weighing more than itself.
Douglas redrew the Cloudster as a torpedo plane, thus starting a long and rewarding association with the Navy. The Army bought four of the planes and succeeded in flying two of them around the world in 1924.
The United States had dozens of small aircraft companies, but only one could call itself "First Around the World." Now, Douglas had a name. Within a decade, it would have a plane that changed the history of transportation.
The plane originated from TWA's frustration.
In 1932, the airline wanted to buy Boeing planes. But at the time, Boeing owned United Airlines, and United owned all the airliners rolling off Boeing's line.
So TWA turned to Douglas. Could the company build trimotor airliners? Douglas had a better idea - a bigger, faster, twin-engine model. Douglas called it the DC-1, for Douglas Commercial.
It quickly evolved into the DC-2 and then, in 1935, into the DC-3, the plane that lifted the airline industry into big business. Even today, the DC-3's smooth lines look strikingly modern, and even today, hundreds of DC-3s continue to fly.
When the United States entered World War II, the DC-3 went to war as the C-47, and Douglas developed a bigger brother, the four-engined C-54. After the war, the C-54 flew in civilian colors as the DC-4.
But by then, Douglas had big competition - from Lockheed, with its graceful Constellation. So Douglas went one-up with the DC-6, a bigger and faster DC-4. Lockheed answered back with the Super Constellation, and Douglas followed with the prop-driven DC-7.
Before either Douglas or Lockheed quite realized what was happening, Boeing lapped the field in the late '50s with its 707 - the plane that let the Jet Set take off.
By the late '50s, jet engines were an old story to Old Mac, founder of the St. Louis company that bore the McDonnell name.
He had started small, opening shop in 1939 in rented office space at Lambert Field with about a dozen employees.
The wartime rush gave McDonnell's tiny company plenty of work building parts for the aircraft giants. (One of them, Curtiss-Wright, had a big plant at Lambert to make transports and dive bombers.)
McDonnell wanted to build his own planes, with his own name attached. But his one design - a bat-winged, twin-engined fighter called the P-67 - never lived up to its promise on paper.
In the middle of the war, the Navy cast about for an airplane company that could design a fighter around something new - the jet engine. Companies such as Douglas and Grumman were much too busy building propeller planes to take on the jet project, so the Navy turned to McDonnell.
That got the small company in on something big. At war's end, the Navy canceled carloads of contracts for propeller planes. But McDonnell pressed on with its jet.
The result: the FH-1, the first Phantom, in production from 1946-48. This straight-winged plane was no great shakes as a fighter (maximum speed was 479 mph), and McDonnell built only 62 of them from 1946-48.
But on July 19, 1946, the Navy took itself into the jet age by landing a Phantom on an aircraft carrier. Pleased, the Navy turned to McDonnell for something bigger and better.
That was the F2H Banshee, which arrived just in time for the Korean War. The Navy bought almost 900 Banshees - and suddenly, thanks to the jet engine, McDonnell was up there with the big boys.
Douglas not only ignored the jet engine; on its military lines, Douglas also insisted on building types that the Pentagon liked least.
As the Cold War took root, the Air Force wanted fighters and bombers. Douglas specialized in transports and attack planes. True, Douglas made lots of money; its zippy little A-4 attack plane stayed in production for a quarter of a century. But on the transport side, Douglas lost out to Lockheed in the competition to build the all-jet C-5.
And on the civilian side, Douglas already lagged behind Boeing. When Boeing began selling the 707 in 1958, Douglas had no jet rival in the works. Playing catch-up, the company threw together a design called the DC-8.
Surprisingly, it worked. For a time, even as a paper design, the DC-8 actually outsold the 707. But Boeing quickly regrouped, while Douglas found itself strapped to cover the DC-8's overhead.
On one front - the short-ranged jetliner - Douglas actually surged ahead. It developed the DC-9, a wonderfully flexible design that could stretch for airlines that wanted more airplane.
It was a big success - in fact, too big a success. In the fever to sell the plane, Douglas' sales reps underpriced the DC-9. And in the rush to meet the flood of orders, Douglas' production people flung money around wildly.
The accountants covered things up for a while, but that couldn't go on, and it didn't.
At McDonnell, the accountants enjoyed toting up profits for a company that was maturing nicely.
In the '50s, McDonnell sold a series of fighters to the Navy and finally broke through to the Air Force with its F-101 Voodoo. It had taken over the big Curtiss-Wright plant at Lambert Field and made itself into a major player in the St. Louis economy.
Then, just in time for the Vietnam War, McDonnell came up with the F-4 Phantom II - the plane that transformed aerial combat. McDonnell built the Phantom for the Navy, which traditionally had accepted some performance limits in its fighters as the price of flying off carriers.
But the Phantom's brute power lifted it above the fighters of its time - even the land-based fighters of its time.
Traditionally, the Air Force had looked down its nose at Navy fighters. But the Phantom was so much airplane that the Air Force adopted it, too. McDonnell sold more than 5,000 Phantoms. Although they no longer fly for the United States, hundreds remain in service around the world, and the smoky, ugly Phantom will surely soldier on well into the 21st century.
The Phantom made lots of money for McDonnell - so much so that some McDonnell people call it "the plane that bought Douglas."
In 1967, Douglas' bankers laid down the law: Find a merger partner or go out of business. Old Mac had long been sniffing after Douglas as a partner. Douglas has scorned McDonnell, but now Douglas' bankers gave him no choice.
On April 27, 1967, the two companies consumated the deal, with Old Mac in the chairman's seat, and the company's headquarters in St. Louis. The canary had swallowed the cat.
It seemed, almost 30 years ago, like a win-win deal - McDonnell's talent in military fighters wed to Douglas' expertise in civilian jetliners. But from the start, the Douglas end never flew the way McDonnell hoped.
When Boeing lapped the jetliner field again with the 747, the first of the jumbo jets, McDonnell Douglas responded with the three-engined DC-10. Unfortunately, Lockheed decided to build the similar L-1011.
One trijet might have given Boeing a run, but two were a wash. Lockheed dropped out of the jetliner business for good. Although McDonnell limped along, it gradually fell to third place, behind Boeing and Airbus, the European consortium.
Still, in St. Louis, military production boomed. Nobody built fighter planes with the expertise of McDonnell Douglas - and in an unfriendly world, the United States needed good fighter planes.
Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, taking with it the assumption that there would always be a Cold War, and thus a heavy demand for fighter planes.
In 1990, McDonnell Douglas went on a crash diet. It shed 16,000 of its 40,000 workers in St. Louis, and the bad news continued:
In 1991, the Defense Department pulled the plug on the A-12, an attack plane that McDonnell was developing in partnership with General Dynamics.
In 1993, the Defense Department rejected McDonnell Douglas' plan for a second-generation Stealth fighter, turning instead to Lockheed.
Last month, in the biggest blow of all, the Defense Department dropped McDonnell Douglas from the competition to build 3,000-plus copies of the Joint Strike Fighter - the last big warplane contract looming.
The Joint Strike Fighter finalists will be Lockheed Martin - and Boeing.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)