Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
By the 1920s, greater Los Angeles was becoming an aviation mecca, aided by abundant open land and a superb mild climate. In the early years of the industry in the region, there were many small, independent airports and manufacturers of aircraft. One of these was the Kinner Airplane and Motor Corporation, founded in 1919.
Winfield Bertram “Bert” Kinner (1882-1957) was a native of Iowa , who worked in Denver for some years working as a streetcar operator before migrating to Minnesota. He worked as a barber, taxi service operator and car dealer. In 1915, an aviator landed in Kinner’s town of Magnolia and Kinner helped work on the plane’s engine. Later that year, he and his family pulled up stakes and headed for California, where Kinner opened a car body making business.
After a brief stint in the Air Force in 1918, where he didn’t see active duty because the First World War ended, Kinner returned to California. The following year he went on an airplane ride at Venice and he found his calling: working with aircraft. On a 230-acre property at Tweedy Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard, south of downtown Los Angeles, Kinner established an airport and the “Kinner Airplane and Motor Corporation,” which manufactured planes. The firm was the first in California authorized to sell stock.
One of his earliest customers was a young woman whose first airplane ride was at Kinner Field. She was so taken with the experience, as Kinner had been at Venice, that she decided she wanted to fly and took lessons at his facility starting early in 1921. Soon, the nascent aviatrix was piloting a Kinner-made craft called the Airster. The female aviator was Amelia Earhart, who became one of the world’s best-known flyers before her mysterious disappearance during a flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
In 1923, a group of citizens in one of Los Angeles’ booming suburbs formed the Glendale Airport Association, creating an airport, called the Grand Central Air Terminal, on former ranch land on the east side of the Los Angeles River, just northeast of today’s junction of Interstate 5 and the 134 Freeway. Kinner moved his airplane and engine manufacturing firm there and the photo highlighted in this post is of that facility. In the background are the Verdugo Mountains to the north.
By the late Twenties, Kinner focused on engines and discontinued making whole aircraft, with the Crown Motor Carriage Company taking on the latter duties with Kinner as an officer of the firm. Later, however, he formed the Security National Aircraft Corporation and built planes at a factory in Downey and later Long Beach.
Ill health led Kinner to retire from active business about 1940 and turn to aircraft inspection. Worsening illness forced him to forego work completely, though he lived on until the age of 85, dying on the Fourth of July in 1957.
There are many well-known names associated with early Los Angeles aviation, including Glenn Curtiss, Donald Douglas, Glenn Martin and others, but Kinner is not considered among them. His role in being an early manufacturer, first approved to sell stock for an aviation manufacturing firm, and in moving his business to the Grand Central Air Terminal property in Glendale should, however, not be forgotten.