Stanley Hiller, Jr., Inventor
Hiller Residence: 2847 Russell Street
Hiller Industries (demolished): 1920 Addison Street
In 1944 the first successful flight of a helicopter in the western United States was flown by a pilot who had never flown a helicopter or seen one fly. The audacious pilot, Stanley Hiller, Jr., who had constructed the helicopter in his backyard on Russell Street first tested it at the University of California’s Memorial Stadium on July 4, 1944. Hiller’s inventiveness was apparent early on: at eight he constructed a go-cart powered by the family’s washing machine and drove it around the streets of Berkeley.
Hiller’s interest in helicopters developed while he was still in his early teens and soon led him to come up with a method—employing a co-axial rotor design—that would compensate for the instability that plagued early rotary wing aircraft. His early success led to international fame, and Hiller became the youngest person ever to receive the Fawcett Aviation Award for his accomplishments in aviation. He was later awarded the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum Trophy for Lifetime Achievement. His early creation, the XH-44 “Hiller-Copter,” is permanently lodged in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A later, improved design, the Hiller 360, was the first civilian helicopter to cross the United States in 1949.
Building on his early interest in helicopter design, Hiller began a career producing helicopters by founding Hiller Industries in 1942. This company, which was located on Addison Street in Berkeley, made helicopters for both military and civilian use. It was incorporated as United Industries in 1945, renamed Hiller Helicopters in 1948, and merged with Fairchild Industries in 1966. Following the merger, Hiller began a second career as a turnaround specialist reviving failing companies. His success in this field was achieved by increasing efficiencies in companies that had large assets that were not being effectively utilized. The firm he created, the Hiller Investment Company, brought a number of companies back to life, and Hiller himself did not take any compensation until the turnaround achieved success for employees and shareholders.
Hiller was born in San Francisco in 1924, his family moved to Berkeley in the 1930s, and he died in Atherton in 2006.
Contributed by Carl Wikander, 2015