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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Von Mach, CM-021000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


There is a collection of Mary Von Mach's letters and memorabilia at the International Women's Air & Space Museum. The finding aid is at the link.


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Mary Von Mach, Ca. 1929 (Source: NASM)
Mary Von Mach, Ca. 1929

Mary Von Mach was born October 1, 1895 in Detroit, MI. The 1900 U.S. Census, her first, placed her living at age 5 with her family in Detroit at 965 Michigan Avenue. That address today is a modern, multi-story office/residence next to the expressway in an area that has been completely redeveloped.

She lived with her father, Max (age 37; 1863-1948), who was born in Germany and worked as a "Decorator." Also in the house were her mother, Mary (33; 1865-1953), sisters Annie (11), Irene (6) and Edna (10-months), and a brother Max E. (3).

Von Mach's father was a well-known, Detroit-based designer. He funded a lot of her aviation activities, including, it appears, her training and the purchase of her aircraft. During her 20s, see below, she lived in Detroit with him and worked in his business.

In 1910, the Census cites her at the same address. However, five additional children were added to the family. Sisters Edna (10), Antoinette (8) and Grace (7), and two more brothers, George (5) and Richard (3). Also with them was a servant, Mary Allin (19). She was probably very busy. Her father this time was employed as a "Fresco painter" at a "Store."

By 1920, the family had moved to 201 Chicago Boulevard in Detroit. Her father at age 56 was now the proprietor of his own decorating store. Her mother, as in previous decades, was not employed outside their home. All eight children still lived with them, probably helping with the decorating business. Brother Max was the only one employed outside their home, as a "Manager" of a "Concrete Receptacle Business." They still had a servant, named Anna Pikeson (35).

The family moved again in time for the 1930 Census to 829 Chicago Boulevard in Detroit. That they moved before March 18, 1925 is easily deduced from the following image of the second page of Von Mach's passport application. Note her address about 2/3 of the way down the form. She intended to travel to Europe on a "Pilgrimage" to Italy, France, Germany and the British Isles.

Mary Von Mach, Passport Application, March 18, 1925 (Source: ancestry.com)
Mary Von Mach, Passport Application, March 18, 1925 (Source: ancestry.com)


But I digress. In 1930, they owned this home, valued at $40,000. Five of the children still lived together with their parents, with Max, Edna and Annie not present. They had a servant named Helen Koski (21). This time Mary was employed as a "Pilot" of "Airplanes."

She had completed her ground school training at the Stinson School of Aviation in the General Motors Building in Detroit. I don't know what stimulated her interest in aviation, unless she was swept up in the Lindbergh phenomenon.

A Detroit News review article from June 25, 1969 stated that she earned her private pilot certificate, number 4117, on October 11, 1928, and, "... promptly planned a 1,800 mile flight from Detroit to Phoenix in her open biplane. It was one of the longest cross-country flights ever undertaken by a woman. She was, however, accompanied part way by her former instructor."

She landed at Tucson at least three times. Indeed, we find Mary during her Detroit to Phoenix flight landing at Tucson twice with her instructor, R.L. Baumgardner from the Stinson school. On Wednesday, February 13, 1929 they arrived from Lordsburg, NM. Von Mach was pilot in command of Travel Air NC6045. They remained overnight in Tucson, departing for Phoenix, AZ the next morning at 8:30AM. On Tuesday, February 19, 1929 they reversed that route, arriving from Phoenix, eastbound to Lordsburg, NM. From the Register, it appears that Von Mach was the passenger on this leg, with Baumgardner listed in the pilot column. This was probably the cross-country flight she planned in October as described in the Detroit News.

Aeronautics Magazine, May, 1930, Page 406 (Source: Web)
Aeronautics Magazine, May, 1930, Page 406 (Source: Web)


This flight served her well. Her intention was to familiarize herself with western airspace in preparation for the National Air Races (NAR) held in the fall of 1929. We find Von Mach landing a third time on Thursday, August 15, 1929. She was solo in Travel Air NC631H (named "Mary Ann II" after her mother). She was westbound from Detroit to Santa Monica, CA for the beginnng of the NAR women's cross-country derby, which was held August 24-September 2nd.

She finished the Derby, but, surprisingly, the Aircraft Yearbook does not cite that she placed in any event. Jessen's book, however, places her 7th in the cross-country event at the interim stop at Ft. Worth, TX, and 9th at the finish in Cleveland.

Aeronautics magazine for May, 1930 reported her employment as a sales person for Fleet aircraft, left. Besides Von Mach, this article cites a few other female Register signers, viz., Amelia Earhart, Opal Kunz and Jessie Keith-Miller. The editor for the column was Register pilot Lady Mary Heath. This column went through a few editors over a few years. Another editor was Louise Thaden.

Soon after the Derby, Von Mach became the first woman enrolled at the Parks Air College, St. Louis, MO. The head of the school, Oliver Parks, was skeptical of her potential success, so he admitted her only for a three-month probationary period, hoping she would drop out. Earning high marks, she graduated after a year and five months in 1931 with her transport pilot license and flight instructor rating. Among her documents in her NASM biographical file (cited, left sidebar), is the signoff sheet granting her the transport license on May 5, 1931. She was the first woman from Michigan to earn the license.

Mary Von Mach in Cockpit, Ca. 1929 (Source: SLU)


At right, from the St. Louis University (SLU) Libraries Digital Collection, is a photograph of Von Mach at Parks College in her cockpit, ca. 1929.

The caption for the photo reads, "Pilot Mary Elizabeth von Mach [sic] (right), the daughter of a Detroit interior designer, is the first woman to study at Parks. She had passed her pilot's examination in 1927 and came to Parks for training in instrument flying and night flying. Ca. 1929 she also participated in the first women's transcontinental air race in August 1929. The pilot on the left is unidentified."

She apparently put her flight instructor certificate to work (below) at the Detroit airport. The newspaper advertisement appears to focus on women. I don't know how how long she was in business, or how successful she was. Does anyone KNOW?

Mary Von Mach Advertisement, December 15, 1932 (Source: NASM)
Mary Von Mach Advertisement, December 15, 1932

In the 1940s, herself in her 40s, Von Mach worked at the Ford Willow Run bomber plant inspecting the Pratt & Whitney engines for the B-24 that was manufactured there. She was for a time one of only six woman working in the entire plant, and from contemporary news articles, bore the brunt of the common sexism of the era. She persisted, however, and applied her mechanical skills so well that she was finally accepted by male coworkers as "belonging" there. I found no Census data for 1940.

A Detroit News review from 1969 states that Von Mach ceased flying in 1961. No reason was given. On July 10, 1969, she traveled to New York to attend an international meeting of the 99s. There, she was celebrated along with 14 other charter members still living at the time. According to the Ninety-Nines Web site, Mary Von Mach was born in 1896 and passed away in 1980. This birth date conflicts with the U.S. Census data I cited above. And the death date conflicts with the January-February, 1991 Women in Aviation magazine, which published an article citing her date of passing as February 4, 1979 at age 84. And to add more confusion, the Michigan Death Index identifies her death date as February 4, 1980.

Mary Von Mach also landed once at Parks Airport on August 24, 1929. This was probably part of the same itinerary that brought her through Tucson August 15th. She was enshrined on December 17, 1987 into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.

A note on the spelling of her last name. I've seen it in every form, from vonMach, von Mach, Vonmach, etc., to Von Mach. The latter appears to be her preference (see her signature on the passport form, above).


Dossier 2.4.30

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 02/02/10 REVISED: 05/16/14, 03/16/16

The Register
I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Von Mach and her airplanes to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
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