Cool Photo: Jack Frye Buying A Rickenbacker

While rifling through the April 3, 1927, edition of the Los Angeles Times, I found this great photo of famed aviator and TWA President Jack Frye buying, what else, a Rickenbacker, the automobile named after WWI pilot Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the “Ace of Aces”.

For more on the Rickenbacker and its distinctive radiator badge:

Rickenbacker Radiator Badge

Rickenbacker Sales Brochure

Rickenbacker Radiator Badge

This rare radiator badge is a perfect topic for Independence Day as it features Uncle Sam’s hat, complete with stars and stripes in red, white and blue. This particular badge would have graced the front of an automobile called the Rickenbacker which was manufactured from 1921-1926 and was named for a courageous American war hero named Captain Eddie Rickenbacker.

Rickenbacker, known as the “Ace of Aces”, was a World War I pilot who flew 300 combat hours, more than any other American, at a time when those early planes were cobbled-together and highly combustible. He shot 26 enemy aircraft out of the sky and earned the Medal of Honor when he encountered seven German planes while by himself and, incredibly, shot down two of them before streaking away.

Before the war, Rickenbacker had found success as a professional race car driver when the cars racing around the track bore names like Stutz and Duesenberg and death was a common occurrence. A 1914 LA Times story, “All the Dope on the Drivers,” contained the following description of Rickenbacker (note that he had not yet changed the “h” to a “k” to make it sound less Germanic):

The same story was illustrated with this photo:

The caption reads, “This queer device was invented by Eddie Rickenbacher especially for the Corona race. The continuous curve to the course prevents slowing down and conversation between driver and mechanic so Eddie had this rig made to order. It has a tube running from each man’s mouth to the other’s ear. The whole thing is head gear, goggles, face mask and speaking tube in one.”

After the war Rickenbacker became involved in a number of endeavors including the automobile company. These pictures of the Rickenbacker automobile appeared in the 1922 sales brochure:

The red, white and blue radiator badge that was chosen to represent the automobile was based upon the insignia used by Rickenbacker’s squadron during the war. In this photo of Captain Rickenbacker, you can clearly see the hat-in-the-ring insignia painted on the fuselage:

“Eddie Rickenbacker and his plane. 94th Aero Squadron, near Rembercourt, Meurthe et Moselle, France. Spad XIII.” October 18, 1918. III-SC-50126. National Archives Identifier: 86706268.

I recently ran across a 1918 story in the Fort Wayne Sentinel, titled “Hat-in-the-Ring is the Emblem of the Gimpers,” in which Captain Rickenbacker explained the origination of the insignia:

“Every man has a picture of a hat in a ring on his machine. That means he is ready to fight at any time, whether he wants to or not. The squadron is sometimes known as the hat-in-the-ring squadron, but among ourselves its gimpers. We adopted the hat-in-the-ring as our emblem back in our training days. Then it was our hope to be the first fighting squadron to get to the front.”

“Our commanding officer, who had been with the French, used to have a hat as the emblem on his machine. Someone suggested that we take the hat, put a ring around it, carrying out the idea of ex-President Roosevelt’s famous statement that we were ready to fight anytime. ”

“The hat we had in mind then was a derby and someone suggested when we were discussing the emblem that it be made Uncle Sam’s hat, with stars and stripes on it. The idea was a gimper itself and we soon designed an Uncle Sam’s hat in a ring of red, white and blue, on each machine.”

“Doug Campbell added the finishing touch to the hat-in-the-ring emblem when he got his fifth hun and became the first all-American trained ace. Somewhere he scared up a paint brush and painted a little black cross in the ring around the hat for each German he had brought down. They were regular German crosses, just like you see on German planes before you let them have it. “

“You want to look at Doug’s collection of crosses. He started them in one end of the ring and made them real small. There are now seven of them in the ring but they stretch barely a quarter of the way across the ring. That is Doug’s quiet way of showing his confidence in getting a lot of boches before the war is over. “

I have frequently wondered about this particular radiator badge and am delighted to hear the backstory told in Captain Rickenbacker’s own words. I did need a little help with the lingo, however. According to, “boche” is a contemptuous term for a German, especially a WW2 German soldier, and according to author John F. Ross, a “gimper” is “a bird who will stick by you through anything” and who does everything “just a little better than he has to.” Ross’s book is called Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed, and it is a gripping read. The last chapter of the book describes the 1942 plane crash in which Rickenbacker, on his way to deliver a message to General MacArthur, went down in the South Pacific with seven other men. They survived on rafts for 22 days, and it was Rickenbacker who took charge and kept all but one alive. Not at all surprising as Captain Rickenbacker was a born leader with an iron will who was always ready to throw his hat into the ring.

“Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, American Ace, in aeroplane. France. Spad XIII.” 1918. III-SC-50127. National Archives Identifier: 86706270.