George Holt Thomas
|Born||31 March 1869|
Hampton House, Stockwell, London, England
|Died||1 January 1929 (aged 59)|
Cimiez, near Nice, France
|Occupation||newspaper publisher, aircraft manufacturer|
|Organization||H.R. Baines and Co.|
Aircraft Manufacturing Company
|Board member of||Birmingham Small Arms Company (for a few days in March 1920)|
|Spouse(s)||Gertrude, née Oliver|
George Holt Thomas (31 March 1869 – 1 January 1929) aviation industry pioneer and newspaper proprietor. Holt Thomas founded, in 1911, the business which became Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited or Airco.
Son and grandson of successful artists he initially followed his father into The Graphic and Daily Graphic newspaper business in 1890, later making his own name and fortune by founding The Bystander and Empire Illustrated magazines. Something of a shrewd visionary he turned to aircraft in 1906.
George Holt Thomas was the seventh son of William Luson Thomas (1830–1890) and his wife Annie, daughter of John Wilson Carmichael. Born at Hampton House, Stockwell, south London, educated privately and at King's College School, London he left Queen's College Oxford in 1890 after two years and without taking a degree. In 1894 he married Gertrude daughter of architect Thomas Oliver of Newcastle upon Tyne, there were no children of the marriage.
After he left university in 1890 he joined his father's newspaper business as a director then became its general manager and later founded The Bystander with its comic strip character "Old Bill" and Empire Illustrated so making his own name and fortune.
During 1906 he turned his attention to aviation recognising its extraordinary potential. He became associated with the Farman brothers Dick, Henri and Maurice Farman born in Paris of English parents involved with newspapers. Through the Farmans he engaged a French pilot, Louis Paulhan, to compete for the £10,000 prize Holt Thomas's friend Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail offered in 1906 for a successful flight from London to Manchester, a distance far greater than anyone had then flown. In April 1910 Paulhan won the prize.
Aircraft Manufacturing Company, Airco
Beginning the enterprise in 1911 Holt Thomas formed Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited in 1912 to build French Farman aeroplanes and obtained licences to build French Gnome and Le Rhone engines. The Farman biplanes were used as trainers by the Royal Flying Corps. (Note: AIRCO Group included: The Gnome & Le Rhone Engine Co— Peter Hooker Limited, Integral Propeller Co. & May, Harden & May Ltd.)
Learning that Geoffrey de Havilland, then at the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough, might be available, he invited de Havilland to join Airco as designer. His Airco designs, pre-fixed with his initials D.H., made up around 30% of all trainers, fighters and bombers used by Britain and the United States during the First World War.
By November 1918 and the armistice Holt Thomas was able to advertise that his was the largest aircraft company in the world. His companies built aeroplanes and their engines and propellors in large numbers and also airships and flying boats. He had the latest metal-working machinery, a laboratory for materials testing and a wind tunnel. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people were employed at Hendon. His companies turned out a new aircraft every 45 minutes. Hendon became a 'white elephant' which he endeavoured to sell to car manufacturers.
Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited
With an eye to the end of the war Holt Thomas formed Aircraft Transport & Travel Limited, sometimes erroneously called Aircraft Travel & Transport, which he registered on 5 October 1916. He was concerned that aviation had not been sufficiently seriously regarded before 1914 and the same should not be allowed to happen to civil aviation which would develop once peace was achieved. He painted word pictures of trunk routes through Britain and Ireland with links throughout Europe even to the United States and New Zealand through India and Australia.
When the armistice came Holt Thomas turned his considerable abilities to keeping his aviation business together and brought in Sefton Brancker, Francis Festing and Mervyn O'Gorman. Aircraft Transport & Travel began the world's first scheduled air service on 25 August 1919.
Holt Thomas's hopes for civil aviation were not at once realised. His Airco group of companies seemed near failure when he sold them into the BSA group's Daimler Hire Limited in February 1920. Finding the Airco group's financial circumstances much worse than they had understood BSA immediately placed most of Holt Thomas's business in the hands of a liquidator and BSA's holding company suffered very serious losses being obliged to pay no dividend for the four subsequent years. Holt Thomas was on the BSA board only a matter of days. Holt Thomas remained a tireless advocate of civil aviation.
Air Transport & Travel continued another eight months under the management of Frank Searle of Daimler Hire Limited within the BSA group. A T&T (Air Express) used the newest DH.18 eight-passenger aircraft introduced in April 1920 until November 1920 before it too was placed in liquidation.
Aerial Transport in 1920 and The Future of British Industry and Trade Unionism 1925 and many letters to the Editor of The Times.
Retirement and death
The Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors whose inventions had been used during the war awarded him in 1925 a sum far more than any other industrialist received.
"His kindness, charming and restrained manner, and quiet enthusiasm will always be remembered. No one who met him in those early days can visualize him as a business man but as an aviation enthusiast, keen on our progress from a national point of view... This pioneer was a great Englishman and his loss will be regretted by many."
Colonel G W Dawes, DSO, AFC The Times
- Vincent Orange, 'Thomas, George Holt (1870–1929)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Mr. G. Holt Thomas. The Times, Friday, 4 January 1929; pg. 14; Issue 45092
- The Aeroplane Race. Another £10,000 Prize., Presentation To M. Paulhan. The Times, Monday, 2 May 1910; pg. 10; Issue 39261
- Airco display advertisement, page 3, The Times, 3 December 1918
- The King's Interest in Flying. Factory And Aerodrome Visited. The Times, Friday, 1 June 1917; pg. 9; Issue 41493
- Mr. G. Holt Thomas. Colonel G. W. Dawes. The Times, Saturday, 5 January 1929; pg. 14; Issue 45093
- Mondey, David, ed., The Complete Illustrated History of the World's Aircraft, Secaucus, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, Inc., 1983, ISBN 0-89009-771-2, p. 15.
- Business Flying. Outlook For Air Mails After The War., London To Paris Service. The Times, Thursday, 31 May 1917; pg. 3; Issue 41492
- "Aerograms" To France. Provincial Towns To Be Included. The Times, Friday, 2 May 1919; pg. 7; Issue 42089
- Business Flying. Air Rights, Speed, And Load., Forecast Of Report. The Times, Monday, 25 November 1918; pg. 4; Issue 41956
- News in Brief The Times, Monday, 6 January 1919; pg. 8; Issue 41990
- Flying in Peace Time. Gen. Sykes's Forecast., "Blazing The Trail" To India. The Times, Wednesday, 8 January 1919; pg. 4; Issue 41992
- Air Posts And Telegrams. 700 Words A Penny To Paris., Mr. Holt-Thomas's Forecast The Times, Friday, 27 June 1919; pg. 9; Issue 42137
- Aircraft Transport & Travel, Ltd. London-Paris Express Air Service The Times, Thursday, 21 August 1919; pg. 15; Issue 42184
- Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Limited). The Progress of the Undertaking., The Proposed Borrowing Powers Approved. The Times, Wednesday, 9 October 1918; pg. 12; Issue 41916
- Air Transport Combine. Aircraft And B.S.A. Firms Unite., Future Of Commercial Flying. The Times Monday, 1 March 1920; pg. 14; Issue 42347
- Peter Hooker, Ltd. Statement by the Liquidator. The Times, Wednesday, 4 August 1920; pg. 16; Issue 42480
- Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior R. P. T. Davenport-Hines 1984 Cambridge University Press
- Future Of Airco At Stake. Resignation Of Mr. Holt Thomas., Necessity Of State Support. (News) The Times Tuesday, 23 March 1920; pg. 15; Issue 42366
- Aviation A Business Proposition. Sir S. Brancker's Plea For A Guarantee. (News) The Times Wednesday, 24 March 1920; pg. 16; Issue 42367
- A Year's Commercial Flying. I.-The Paris Mail., Air Speed And Delays On Land. By G. Holt Thomas The Times, Monday, 19 April 1920; pg. 7; Issue 42388
- A Year's Commercial Flying. II.-Finance., Aeroplane Travel By Night. (By G. Holt Thomas.). The Times, Wednesday, 21 April 1920; pg. 21; Issue 42390
- Pedigree Cattle Sales. "Record" Prices For Kerries. The Times, Friday, 30 May 1919; pg. 7; Issue 42113
- A 10½ Gallon Cow The Times, Saturday, 17 April 1920; pg. 11; Issue 42387 News in Brief