Rohr/Goodrich Corporation: 75 Years of Aerospace History

The San Diego Air & Space Museum’s Library and Archives houses a significant new collection: a large portion of the image archive from the Rohr/Goodrich Corporation (now part of United Technologies Corporation). The company’s San Diego roots go back to 1940, and to its namesake, Fred Rohr, who helped build Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. This year the company celebrates its 75th anniversary. The Rohr/Goodrich collection includes several thousand photographs and slides that document the rich history of the company, with many never before seen images showing how vital Fred Rohr and his company were to the growth of the South Bay region. 

Fred Rohr helped revolutionize the aerospace industry in the 1930s, when he developed the first drop hammer for shaping sheets of aluminum. The drop hammer would dramatically speed up the aircraft manufacturing process, which would be vital when the United States entered World War II. On August 6, 1940, Fred H. Rohr met with several aircraft industry associates and drew up plans for the Rohr Aircraft Corporation. Originally, his factory was in his garage, but had soon moved to a 15,000 square foot downtown San Diego location.  

However, in the build up to World War II, the company grew so quickly it soon outgrew this space. The following winter, construction began on a new 37,000 square foot building located on 20 acres of bayside property in Chula Vista.  By June 1941, the company was in full operation at its new location, and had expanded to 183,000 square feet of working space, while the original investment of $150,000 had grown, and the company was worth almost one million dollars.

Fred Rohr founded his company on the idea that the aircraft industry would benefit from a “feeder plant” that supplied parts and assemblies to aircraft manufacturers.  He believed, and later proved, that his company could make specialized components at a lower cost than the prime contractor could produce them.  Rohr’s gamble would pay off, and during World War II, his company became the world's largest producer of airplane propulsion packages, making units for such aircraft as the Consolidated B-24.   Rohr’s revolutionary idea of the feeder plant was one of the reasons America was able to become an “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II, the nation having produced over 300,000 airplanes by war’s end. 

After the war, the company continued to make components for military and civil aircraft, and by 1965, Rohr had produced more jet engine power plants and thrust reversers than any other manufacturer in the world. Fred Rohr died that year. His passing precipitated a change in management and direction, and, for a brief time after his death, the company diversified into producing satellite tracking antenna, rocket motor components, deep submergence vessels, modular housing, ground transportation systems (such as the BART cars), and even toys.  

But, after a period of severe losses, the company chose to refocus, returning to the aircraft industry, and during the 1970s, began producing large aft fuselage sections, nacelles, and pylons for the Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Command System (AWACS) aircraft. They also produced components for the Lockheed C-5A transports and the Grumman F-14 fighters.  

As the century drew to a close, Rohr’s core products were nacelle systems and pylons, which they continued to manufacture successfully until the company was sold in its entirety to B.F. Goodrich in December 1997. Although it is now operating as Goodrich Aerostructures Group, owned by United Technologies Corporation) it still remains a separate corporate entity named Rohr, Inc., and still makes engine components for such aircraft as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The Rohr/Goodrich Collection is approximately 70 linear feet and consists primarily of historical photographs, negatives, and slides from the early 1940s to the late 1990s. Images document the construction and development of the main and various manufacturing plants; production lines for aircraft engine parts fabrication and assembly; commercial and military aircraft; aerials; special events; and employees. 

The collection was donated to the Museum in 2013 and arrived in boxes with little organization. In April 2013, museum staff began sorting, organizing and rehousing the materials by subject. As work progressed, an inventory sheet was created as materials were kept in their original folders, 3-ring binders, or boxes, then moved into 51 archival storage boxes and numbered for identification. There are approximately 35,000 photographs and over 135,000 slides and negatives; formats include 4x5 inch, 5x7 inch, but are primarily 8x10 inch photographs. A corresponding descriptive finding guide was created in 2013, available at:

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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