The Father of the U.S. Air Force Was From Milwaukee

Meet Billy Mitchell, Milwaukee’s maverick airman.

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William “Billy” Mitchell (1879-1936) is considered the father of the U.S. Air Force. The grandson of financial magnate Alexander Mitchell and the son of U.S. Sen. John Mitchell was raised on the family’s country estate in what is now West Allis.

Fiercely patriotic, Mitchell enlisted in the Army in 1898 during the Spanish-American War and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the youngest captain in the service by 1913. In 1917 he took command of the first U.S. aircraft unit and led all of the American aerial combat units in France during World War I.

At the close of the war, Mitchell’s insistence on building the nation’s air power ran contrary to the views held by military leaders. Public clashes with Army and Navy leadership led to a demotion, and his military career ended in resignation in 1925 after he was court-martialed and found guilty of insubordination.

He remained a staunch advocate of military aviation and continued to lecture and lobby on the subject until his death at age 56. Celebrated after his death, Mitchell’s views were vindicated by the importance of air combat in World War II.

The B-25 bomber was named after him, and he was posthumously promoted to major general by President Harry Truman. Milwaukee County’s airport was renamed in his honor in 1941. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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