Inventor – Aviator - Philanthropist - Community Leader
Out of Turkey
Aram Abgarian was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on February 4, 1913, and migrated with his family to the United States before his first birthday. The family settled first in Toledo, Ohio and later moved to Detroit where Aram received his primary education at Cass Technical High School.
A love for Aviation
Airplane Model League of America
While in high school, Aram's burning interest in aviation led to his participation in model airplane design and competition, primarily through the auspices of the Airplane Model League of America, or A.M.L.A. which was founded by renowned aviator William Bushnell Stout. The A.M.L.A.'s original purpose was to unite the various boys modeling clubs so that the first national competition could take place. At the first international meet Aram set the world record and won a trip to Europe. Following are William Bushnell Stout's early impressions of young Aram Abgarian: "This model-airplane work, in my opinion, accomplished far more than it has ever been given credit for. It did something to the boys. It taught them fundamentals of airplane design and flying that even Boston Tech failed to get over to many of its graduates. These boys knew what made a plane fly and what gave it performance, and they learned a type of free competition and sportsmanship that I have never seen equaled in any other form of contest. Early in the development work, I put up some prizes for Cass High School contest - $10.00, $5.00 and $2.50 for first, second and third prizes. Finally I designed and made up a trophy of Duralumin. The Stout Trophy is still contested for annually in the national event. One evening when I attended on of these contests in the Cass auditorium, a spirited indoor contest was going on. As I passed a young chap sitting on the stage floor, with his assistant helping him to wind up the rubber bands of his model for the next contest, I gathered that he, one of the smallest of the group, was in line for second place. In the last heat his plane had tied its nearest competitor. Next day, he said, was his mother's birthday and he was doing his best to win the contest so that he could buy her some flowers. By a few extra turns of the rubber bands without breaking them, he managed, this time, to add a few seconds to his plane's flight in the air and won second place. This promising young man was Aram Abgarian, an Armenian. His mother must have given him good backing at home, for he appeared in all contests after that. When we came to our first international meet, the outdoor contests were held at the State Fairgrounds in Detroit. It was a tricky day. Several times the outdoor models got caught in thermals, and even after their propellers stopped turning they were carried on and up and disappeared from sight. According to the rules, the judges counted the time as that in which the model was "in sight". Up to the last night of the outdoor contest, England, Canada and Hawaii had not placed. Our Detroit boys had taken every world's record in the meet. In Aram's event both his plane and the English entrant's model had disappeared from sight. The judges had timed the visible flight of Aram's plane a quarter of a second longer than its English rival's.
On this basis he might have won. The committee came to Aram, however, and explained that as a matter of club sportsmanship they did not think it would be good ethics to deprive the English of a win on so close a margin and on one based merely on the judgment of the timers as to when the models ceased to be visible. The prize was a round trip to Europe with all expenses paid. It was no small thing for a boy to lose. To be a good sport, however, Aram gave up his trip to Europe and allowed the judges, without protest or complaint from him, to award the outdoor contest to England. But he was not through. The next day was the international indoor contest for endurance. Aram had no model ready. Late that night when Aram got home he went to work on the kitchen table with scissors, razor blade, glue, tissue paper and microfilm. His mother made strong coffee and stayed up with him all night to help him keep awake. At ten o'clock the next morning he appeared at the big stock amphitheater in the fairgrounds where the contest was to be held, ready to fly his new model. It weighed a quarter of an ounce complete, stayed in the air for twelve and a half minutes, broke the world's record, and Aram went to Europe after all! This was one of the finest exhibitions of nerve and determination and sportsmanship I have ever heard of in any sport."
William Bushnell Stout "So Away I Went"
Aram meets President Coolidge
On April 2, 1928 the Detroit Free Press reported that Aram, along with 3 other national champions, all from Detroit, put on a demonstration for U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, on the south lawn of The White House. The boys left two of the model planes dangling from the tall poplar trees adjacent to the executive offices, and two landed on the roof of the offices. President Coolidge was reportedly very interested in the mechanism of the models, and wrapped up the event with a photo shoot with the boys. The event was also attended by Representatives Clarence J. McLeod, and Robert H. Clancy of Detroit, and Merril Hamburg, secretary of the Airplane Model League of America. The boys also met, and demonstrated their models for then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and earlier that day at Bolling Field (now Bolling Air Force Base) to Assistant Secretary of Commerce William P. McCracken, in charge of commercial aviation. George F. Plerrot, managing editor of the American Boy Magazine, accompanied the boys to Washington. Fred L. Black, Advertising Manager of the Ford Motor Company joined the boys, as a personal representative of Edsel Ford, who had provided air transportation for the delegation in a large monoplane.
Aram meets President Hoover
In the spring of 1929, U.S. President Herbert Hoover welcomed to the White House a delegation consisting of Aram Abgarian, then indoor world record holder, William Chaffee, who formerly held that title, Thomas Hill of Winston-Salem, N.C., boy’s outdoor champion, and Ford Grant of Detroit, international champion (who had won a contest with international champions at the Croydon Airdome, in the U.K., July, 1928. They were accompanied by Mitchell V. Charnley of The American Boy’s editorial staff and again by Fred L. Black of Ford Motor Company. This time, the party flew from Detroit to Washington in a giant Ford all-metal tri-motor airplane, again supplied by Edsel Ford himself. The flight took three hours and fifteen minutes, at a time when it took sixteen hours to travel by train. President Hoover recalled meeting the delegation the year before when he was the Secretary of Commerce.
A letter from Admiral Byrd
On June 17, 1928 only weeks prior to his 2 year long first expedition to Antarctica, famed American explorer Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd wrote Aram a personal letter of thanks. Through the offices of Mitchell V. Charnley of The American Boy Magazine, Aram had sent Byrd's young son two airplanes, that happened to be planes that Aram acheived the world record with. Byrd congratulated Abgarian on his accomplishments as well as his workmanship on the planes he sent, and remarked at how much he enjoyed flying the planes with his son. That year Byrd led an expedition to Antarctica that would lead him to become the first person to fly a plane over the South Pole on Nov. 29, 1929.
Education and Career
After graduating from high school, he continued in the experimental engineering field, supplementing his education with classes at the University of Detroit and Wayne State University. In 1933, he married Ella Avedian, and shortly thereafter he began his first venture in business by producing a motor scooter called the "Traveler" from designs and patents he had developed. The success of the venture was halted by World War II, when materials became scarce, and Aram Abgarian turned his attention to the defense effort, working for several local companies.
United Metal Products Corporation
In 1946 Mr. Abgarian founded United Metal Products Corporation, a company that produced sporting goods and parts for the automotive industry. The firm grew substantially during the ensuing years and Mr. Abgarian used his success to contribute to both the Armenian and Civic community until his death on June 20, 1968.
A dream fufilled
The late Aram Abgarian loved music and he played the piano for his own enjoyment in the privacy of his home. At the time St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, MI was being built, Mr. Abgarian expressed a desire to donate a pipe organ to the church. He made an original substantial contribution towards this purpose through the offices of his uncle, Edward Mardigian, president of the Armenian Apostolic Society, the organization charged with the responsibility of building and furnishing the new church.
When the eventual selection of the pipe organ was finalized and the contracts were made, it was learned that the price of the organ was greater than the original estimate. Mr. Abgarian gladly paid the difference, only two weeks prior to his death. The organ project, so dear to his heart, was completed.
The new pipe organ was dedicated in the loving memory of Aram Abgarian on Friday January 22, 1971. Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church, presided over the Holy Badarak, organ dedication and Requiem Service in memory of Aram Abgarian. Mr. Berj Zamkochian was the guest organist, accompanied by the Komitas Choir.
- "So Away I Went", William Bushnell Stout, Indianapolis and New York, 1951, ISBN 0405122055
- "Model Airplanes and the American Boy", Frank Zaic, 1982, ISBN 0913457000
- "American Boy" Magazine, Sprague Publishing Co., Detroit, MI, September, October, November and December of 1928, February, March and April of 1929.