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60 Years of EAA: The Early Years (1953-1968)

Fledgling aviation organization finds a niche among aviators

This is the first in a five-part series of articles highlighting EAA's history, in commemoration of the organization's 60th anniversary on January 26, 2013.

First EAA meeting
Milwaukee-area aviation enthusiasts gather at Curtiss-Wright Airport on January 26, 1953, for EAA's organizational meeting.

Mechanix Illustrated
A cover of Mechanix Illustrated magazine that featured EAA and homebuilding in the mid-1950s.

Rockford flightline in 1968
A look on the flightline at EAA's annual fly-in at Rockford, Illinois, in 1968.

View more historic EAA photos

January 21, 2013 - A cold January night might seem fitting as the birth date of one of the world's best-known aviation organizations. After all, mid-winter is the time when many aviators plan, build, and repair while dreaming of what might be in the warm, sunny days ahead.

On January 26, 1953, Milwaukee resident Paul Poberezny - recently returned from service in Korea - gathered about three dozen fellow aircraft builders and restorers at Curtiss-Wright Field (now Timmerman Airport) in that city to form a local club where they could share information and talk about airplanes.

Not much beyond that was expected at first, even as the new Experimental Aircraft Association created its first basic monthly newsletter and even held a fly-in the following September as part of the Milwaukee Air Pageant. That fly-in drew 21 airplanes and all of 150 people, who easily fit in the Miller Brewing Company hangar for a Saturday night dinner that year.

The new EAA quickly found kindred spirits throughout the country, however. Young men, many World War II and Korea vets who got a taste of aviation in the service, joined the pre-war airplane buffs in a way to put their enthusiasm and knowledge to use. Poberezny would later often call it "using hand and mind" to explore the world of flight.

Ray Stits, of Riverside, California, got permission to form EAA Chapter 1 in late 1953, and in 1954 and 1955, Poberezny's articles in Mechanix Illustrated magazine showing how to build an airplane for $800 got nationwide attention. EAA membership soon measured in the hundreds instead of the dozens.

All of that business was conducted from the Poberezny's basement for a decade as the official EAA headquarters. Paul and Audrey Poberezny, plus a cadre of volunteers, sorted mail, answered phone calls, and established policy for the young organization. EAA kept up its annual fly-ins at Milwaukee (with a one-year flirtation at Oshkosh in 1956) until in 1959, more space and amenities in Rockford, Illinois, beckoned and created an era known by longtime members as "The Rockford Years."

While those who built and restored airplanes were primarily the attendees at EAA's first meeting, the group quickly became a magnet for others who enjoyed flying just about anything recreationally. The first warbirds began appearing at the EAA fly-ins in the early 1960s, vintage airplanes accumulated in growing numbers from the very start, and aerobatics enthusiasts increasingly brought their skills to Rockford throughout the 1960s.

Most people came to EAA for knowledge, information, and fun, but the association's growth also meant a business side was taking shape. In 1962, the EAA Air Museum Foundation was created to handle a surging number of aviation donations. In 1964, EAA opened its first true outside offices in Franklin, Wisconsin, with an expanded museum coming in 1966.

As 1968 concluded, EAA was an organization on solid footing within the aviation community and occasionally gained some national visibility as "those guys who built and flew their own airplanes." Less than a year later, however, the EAA board made a decision that would forever change the group and make a Wisconsin city best known for overalls the mecca for sport aviation.

Read more:
Part 2: Home in Oshkosh (1969-1983)
Part 3: A Bigger Role (1984-1997)
Part 4: Leading in a New Era (1998-2012)
Part 5: What Lies Ahead? (2013 and Beyond)

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