Reuben H. Fleet (1887-1975)
Reuben H. Fleet earned his Army pilot’s wings in 1917, and the following year he commanded the unit that flew the inaugural load of U.S. Air Mail from New York to Washington. In 1922 he left the Army and a year later founded Consolidated Aircraft in Buffalo, N.Y. He decided in 1935 to relocate to San Diego because it offered better weather for developing and flight-testing new aircraft, particularly seaplanes. Consolidated was the parent of Convair, later a Division of General Dynamics Corp.
When the firm moved here, Fleet brought 411 engineering and management people from Buffalo. Times at first were lean, but in the arms buildup for World War II Consolidated prospered, selling seaplanes and Liberator bombers to the U.S. government and its Allies. The firm’s employment in San Diego reached a peak of 41,000 in 1943.
Hordes of people migrated here from the south and midwest to find jobs at Consolidated, and the term “Rosie the Riveter” was coined there.
Convair engineers who used to work there have led other high tech firms to become major factors in the local economy, e.g., Walter Zable at Cubic Corp., Bill Ivans at Cohu, Inc., Dr. Glenn Havens at Narmco/Whittaker, and Bernard Gross at Chem-tronics.
Along with these profound influences which Major Fleet had on San Diego is a cultural one: he and his family made the essential gift which brought into being one of the world’s finest planetariums, at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center in Balboa Park.
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