Bloomberg News

Sanford McDonnell, Former CEO of McDonnell Douglas, Dies at 89

March 20, 2012

Sanford “Sandy” McDonnell, whose career spanned from the World War II Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb to running the aerospace company that bore his family name, has died. He was 89.

McDonnell died March 19, according to a statement yesterday by Boeing Co. (BA), which acquired McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997. He was diagnosed in late 2010 with pancreatic cancer and died at his home in Clayton, Missouri, the St. Louis Today website reported, citing his family. He retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1988.

“Sandy’s commitment to his colleagues and customers, his country, and his community during his 40-year career and throughout his lifetime, was extraordinary,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney said in the statement.

McDonnell became McDonnell Douglas president in 1971, CEO in 1972 and chairman in 1980 as the company grew after the 1967 Douglas Aircraft Co. merger, converted the Douglas DC-10 into the military refueling tanker still in use today and unveiled the twin-engine jetliner that became the workhorse MD-80 for carriers such as American Airlines (AMR1).

Under his watch, the McDonnell Douglas Skylab was launched into orbit in 1973 as the first U.S. space station. He remained on the McDonnell Douglas board until 1994.

Sanford N. McDonnell was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1922. His father, William A. McDonnell, was a financier, according to a Boeing profile. His uncle, James S. McDonnell, was founder of McDonnell Aircraft Corp.

Manhattan Project

Sandy McDonnell’s engineering work began in the U.S. Army, when he was stationed in New Mexico for the top-secret Manhattan Project that built the world’s first nuclear weapons, according to an account on Boeing’s website.

“As a lowly G.I. Technician Third Grade I can’t say that anything I did was that ‘notable,’” McDonnell wrote in a personal history on the website of the Atomic Heritage Foundation. “Perhaps helping develop a successful vacuum casting process for uranium-238 was my most significant contribution.”

He earned degrees from Princeton University, University of Colorado and Washington University in St. Louis and joined McDonnell Aircraft in 1948. His development credits included the F-101 Voodoo and F-4 Phantom II jet fighters in the generation of Cold War planes that stretched the limits of that era’s performance and technology.

McDonnell was named vice president-general manager of all combat aircraft at McDonnell Aircraft, and in 1966 he was named president of McDonnell Aircraft. His civic roles included serving as national president of the Boy Scouts of America from 1984 to 1986.

In 1946, McDonnell married Priscilla Robb. They had two children.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Dufner in Dallas at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at

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