Anton Herman Gerard "Anthony" Fokker (6 April 1890 – 23 December 1939) was a Dutch aviation pioneer and aircraft manufacturer. He is most famous for the fighter aircraft he produced in Germany during the First World War such as the Eindecker monoplanes, the Dr.1 triplane and the D.VII biplane.
Fokker's first interest in FLIGHT stemmed from Wilbur Wright's exhibition flights in France in the summer and fall of 1908. In 1910, aged 20, Fokker was sent by his Father to Germany to receive training as an automobile mechanic at Bingen Technical school, but his interest was in flying, so he transferred to the Erste deutsche Automobil-Fachschule in Mainz. That same year Fokker built his first aircraft "de Spin" ("the Spider"), which was destroyed by his Business partner who flew it into a tree. He gained his flying certificate in his second "Spin" aircraft, which shortly thereafter was also destroyed by the same Business partner, prompting Fokker to end their cooperation. In his own country, he became a Celebrity by flying around the tower of the Grote or St.-Bavokerk in Haarlem on 1 September 1911, with the third version of the "Spin". One day earlier, on Queen's Day (31 August, Queen Wilhelmina's birthday), Fokker had already taken the opportunity to make a couple of demonstration flights in Haarlem in the same aircraft.
In 1912, Fokker moved to Johannisthal near Berlin where he founded his first own company, Fokker Aeroplanbau. In the following years he constructed a variety of airplanes. He relocated his factory to Schwerin where it was renamed Fokker Flugzeugwerke GmbH, and later shortened to Fokker Werke GmbH.
The famous French pilot Roland Garros was shot down on 18 April 1915. His aircraft had been fitted with a deflector device, whereby metal deflector wedges were fitted to the airscrew. Garros was able to set fire to the airframe before being taken prisoner but the aircraft's gun and the armoured propeller remained intact and came into German hands.
Author A.R. Weyl (Fokker: the creative years, Putnam 1965) says that, while Fokker was a talented and bold pilot, his Business character was more flawed. He failed to reinvest war profits back into his factory which consequentially struggled to fulfill war contracts as the factory floor was often muddled with prototype development and production taking place at the same time. Fokker distrusted qualified Engineers (which he was not) and resented frequent German insistence on carrying out stringent structural tests to ensure prototype aircraft were fit for combat. He could be bad tempered and insensitive as when he verbally abused his dying designer Martin Kreuzer on the evening of 27 June 1916, after Kreuzer had crashed the prototype Fokker D.I. The rudder jammed but Kreuzer was able to give a Verbal report on the accident before he died. "Fokker hurried to the scene and shouted reproaches at the mortally injured man". Weyl says this incident was witnessed by Reinhold Platz, who succeeded Kreuzer.
While Weyl's biography paints an unpleasant picture of Fokker as a businessman, he was a popular and charismatic figure with Service pilots and could charm even senior officers. This charm enabled him to deal with the first major crisis of his German career when his newly delivered Fokker Dr.I triplanes began to experience sudden fatal accidents in late 1917 and the type was temporarily grounded as too dangerous to fly. The triplanes' top wings frequently ripped off under aerobatic conditions and even Lothar von Richthofen (brother of Manfred) was lucky to survive one such crash. Fokker was able to prove to the German high command that the basic design was not at fault but the German military inquiry concluded that shoddy workmanship due to poor supervision and quality control at the Fokker factory were to blame. Fokker received a stern warning about Future conduct. Unfortunately the same scenario repeated itself again, a few months later, with the introduction of his E.V/D.VIII monoplane in mid-1918. A further high level German inquiry revealed more production and workmanship issues. Weyl asserts that the German authorities were now willing to file Criminal charges against Fokker and might have done so, had he not returned to the Netherlands shortly after the end of World War I.
On 25 March 1919, Fokker married Sophie Marie Elisabeth von Morgen in Haarlem. This marriage ended in divorce in 1923. In 1927, he married Canadian Violet Eastman in New York City. On 8 February 1929, she died in a fall from their hotel suite window. The original police report said her death was a suicide, but this was later changed to 'vertigo victim' at the request of her husband's staff. On the subject of his marriages, Fokker wrote, "I have always understood airplanes much better than women. I had more love affairs in my life, and they ended just like the first one, really, because I thought there was nothing that could be more important than my airplanes... I have now learned, by bitter experience, that one must give a little too; in love one has to use one's brain just as much as in Business, and perhaps even more".
He was the maker of the Fokker F-VII airplane Josephine Ford (named after the grand daughter of automobile magnate Henry Ford), which Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd and Machinist Floyd Bennett flew over or near the North Pole on 9 May 1926.
This initiated a phase of consideration of the interrupter gear concept in the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). Fokker was heavily involved in this process but the story of his conception, development and installation of a synchronization device in a period of 48 hours (first found in an authorized biography of Fokker written in 1929) has been shown to be not factual. The available evidence points to a synchronisation device having been in development with Fokker's company for perhaps six months prior to the capture of Garros' machine. Additionally there were patents filed in France, Germany and Austria-Hungary as far back as 1910 which show a very similar device to that pioneered by Fokker. Author A. J. Weyl suggests that Fokker – or more probably someone on his production team – were aware of these patents. One patentee, Franz Schneider and his employer LVG, later sued Fokker in the German courts and won their case; but Fokker (by now in America) refused to pay up.
In 1931, Fokker sold his American aircraft plants to General Motors, whereupon they became the company's General Aviation division.
Fokker died at age 49 in New York in 1939 from pneumococcal meningitis, after a three-week-long illness. In 1940, his ashes were brought to Westerveld Cemetery in Driehuis, North Holland, where they were buried in the family grave.
Weyl also discusses claims of Fokker's outright plagiarism or taking sole credit for the work of his staff, first designer Martin Kreuzer and later Reinhold Platz. For Example, contemporary German documents for the E.V/D.VIII refer to Fokker as 'the designer' but Weyl and other authors now suggest that Platz was the real design genius behind the Dr.I, D.VII and D.VIII. There may be some truth in this as Platz recalled to Weyl that he attended high level meetings alongside Fokker but was never introduced or referred-to as the designer and often never even spoke. Yet when Fokker fled Germany it was Platz who immediately took over the German works on Fokker's behalf. Fokker later moved Platz to the Netherlands, as head designer, when the post-war German operation collapsed which indicates Platz really did play a greater design role than Fokker admits. Weyl uncharitably suggests that Platz's role at the Fokker D.VIII crisis meetings was to take the blame if anything was wrong and not receive credit. How much of this interpretation is based on the fact that Platz was still alive to tell his side of the story in 1965, and Fokker was not, is unclear.
Fokker's nickname was The Flying Dutchman. In popular media, Hurd Hatfield portrayed him in the 1971 film Von Richthofen and Brown and the character Roy Fokker from the animated series Macross was named in honor of Anthony Fokker. Fokker is portrayed by Craig Kelly in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Attack of the Hawkmen.
Fokker's admitted bribery has contributed to his reputation for sharp Business practices. Weyl also points out that – in addition to possible Criminal charges for the Fokker D.VIII fatal crashes – Fokker also failed to pay taxes to German authorities and actually owed more than 14 million marks. Fokker's autobiography tells a similar story, but focuses on the rampant corruption, hyper-inflation, economic meltdown, and violent revolutionary forces of the pre-Weimar days. According to Fokker's account, as WWI progressed, the German High Command became increasingly brazen, even forcing Fokker into German citizenship against his will. Fokker describes his escape from Germany as a harrowing tale in which he protected as many workers as possible and escaped with less than a quarter of his net worth. He takes pains to rebuff the claim that he left the country owing any taxes.
Fokker and his armament team, including Lübbe and Leimberger, also worked on lesser known projects, including a multi-barrelled machine gun, known as the Fokker-Leimberger. Although superficially similar to a Gatling, the action of the Fokker-Leimberger was substantially different. Problems with the gun, especially with ruptured cases, prevented its adoption into production during the war. After moving to the US, Fokker continued to work on the design, but he was ultimately unsuccessful—properly sealing the rotary split-breech was apparently very difficult. A single surviving prototype is known today at the Kentucky Military Treasures.