Louis William Greve was a prolific inventor, an aviation pioneer,
an industrialist and a civic leader. Louis Greve was also known as Lou, L.W.
and in the aviation arena many called him "Papa Greve" for his generosity
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 2nd, 1882 to Claus and Clara
Greve. In 1900, he graduated from Cleveland's Central High School. Two years
later, he went to work in his father's company Cleveland Pneumatic Tool.
Claus Greve noticed early on that his son had a great aptitude for mechanical
devices and design. Combined with a modest and hard working personality, Lou
began his career at Cleveland Pneumatic Tool as an office boy. He progressed to
mechanic and continued to learn the pneumatic device field from bottom to top.
In 1931, Louis Greve succeeded his father as president of Cleveland Pneumatic
Tool and Cleveland Rock Drill. Other titles he would hold include; president of
the National Air Races, president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce,
director of Central National Bank, president of the American Drop Forging
Institute and advisor to the Presidential War Advisory Board.
His father fully supported Lou's innovations and product improvements.
In 1903, Lou began submitting the first of his 46 patents. His first patent was
awarded in 1904 for his impact tool design, now widely known as the "jack
hammer". Some of his other personal patents include; early automotive shock
absorbers (air springs), shock absorbers for aircraft (3), aircraft struts, aircraft
shock absorbing pedestals, amphibian shock absorbers, aircraft shock absorbing
struts(2) and landing wheel mountings for aircraft. One of Lou's shock absorbers
for aircraft was manufactured as the "Aerol Strut". In 1927, Lou sat on a board
attached to the bracing struts of a taxiing plane to take motion pictures of the
action of the first experimental set of Aerols. This particular landing gear
apparatus made take-offs and landings smoother and safer. Aerols would make
landings for bombers and military aircraft viable on the limited, unsteady deck space
of carriers. The first take-off of a bomber from a carrier at sea was aerol-equipped.
Aerols would become widely accepted and standardized for all sectors of aviation.
Admiral Byrd's aircraft was outfitted with Aerols for his flight to the South Pole.
In 1935, the first successful retractable landing gear units were Aerols.
In 1929, Lou was appointed to the position of president of the National Air
Races in Cleveland. He had played a major role in securing "the races" and he
would continue to hold the position of president through 1939. This enterprise
would become one of the leading aviation events in the world.
Lou firmly believed that women's increased participation in the field of
aeronautics was imperative to aviation's progress and acceptance. In 1929,
Lou established the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Race/Aerol Trophy Race for
women pilots. This race was a derby that began in Santa Monica, California
and concluded in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1930, the derby began in Long Beach,
California and finished in Chicago, Illinois. Today it is also known as the
Women's Air Derby/National Women's Derby and the victor was awarded the
Aerol Trophy, named after Lou's patented shock absorber. At the 1931 races,
it was established as a perpetual classic free-for-all closed course women's race.
Winners of the Aerol Trophy included; Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (1929), Gladys
O'Donnell (1930 & 1932), Maude Irving Tait (1931), and Mary "Mae" Haizlip
(1933). In 1934, he also sponsored the $25,000 Louis W. Greve Trophy Race.
The Greve Race was a high-speed closed course event, open to both men and women.
All airplanes "ships" were required to have a 550 cubic-inch (or less) engine
displacement. The engine size restriction was implemented to encourage
greater speed and efficiency in the lower-power airplane groups. This would
also encourage other aviation innovations other than sheer engine size and power.
A victory would be dependant on pilot skill, airplane design and luck.
Winners of the Greve Trophy included; Lee Miles (1934), Harold Neumann
(1935), Michael Detroyat (1936), R.A. Kling (1937), Tony Levier (1938), and
Art Chester (1939).
The aviation arena was a tight knit group of pioneers. Jimmy Doolittle, Roscoe
Turner, Amelia Earhardt, Charles and Anne Lindbergh and many foreign aviators
were some of the guests at the Greve summer home located at Mentor-on-the-
Lake during "The Nationals".
Louis William Greve passed away suddenly on February 2nd, 1942 with his
wife, Elsie, at his side. Telegrams and letters poured in from around the world
to his wife and his three children Janice Roberts, Fred Greve, and Doris
Wagenlander. Cleveland Pneumatic Tool was in the midst of an $8,000,000
expansion to fill WWII war orders, primarily for landing gear.
The Cleveland News Obituary, on February 3rd 1942, quoted Frederick Crawford
as saying "Mr. Greve was very thorough in detail and far-seeing in his planning.
His was the inspiration, which brought the air races here and kept them going.
Despite his accomplishments, he was completely unassuming". Major John Berry,
who also worked closely with Lou in conducting the races said, " Mr. Greve was
one of the most vital factors in the development of aviation. Cleveland and
aviation owe a great deal to Mr. Greve".
All individuals involved in the National Air Races were valuable and significant
to the development and advancement of aviation. The races were a launching pad
for aviation innovation and acceptance. It is important to recognize the
contributions of the companies, civic leaders, organizers, pilots, designers,
sponsors, volunteers, and patrons. Many pilots lost their lives. They were brave
visionaries with a passion for flight. May they rest in peace and forever be
remembered for their heroisms and contribution.
Note: The Western Reserve Historical Society (Crawford Museum) Library in
Cleveland, Ohio holds the National Air Race archives, donated by
managing director, Mr. Clifford Henderson.
Researched and written by Elizabeth (Betsy) Kidd
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