America's World War I "Ace of Aces," Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was born in Columbus on Oct. 8, 1890 to Swiss immigrant parents. He grew up in this house on East Livingston Avenue, with no electricity or indoor plumbing. At around 12 years old, Eddie Rickenbacker left school to help support his family after his father's tragic death.
Working for several Columbus automobile companies sparked a love of racing and working on cars. In 1910, while working as a salesman for the Columbus Buggy Company, Rickenbacker began racing cars as an advertising gimmick. He soon became a successful, full-time race car driver and competed in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Rickenbacker earned the nickname "Fast Eddie" and set a speed record of 134 miles per hour.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army with ambitions of becoming a combat flier. But he was first sent to France and assigned as staff driver for General John Pershing. Even though he was over the age limit and didn't meet the educational requirements, he managed a transfer to the American Expeditionary Force's Aviation Instruction Center and learned to fly. He was then assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, the famed "Hat in the Ring" squadron.
In a deadly environment where a pilot's life expectancy was measured in weeks, Rickenbacker quickly mastered air combat tactics and scored six victories in little more than a month. He assumed command of the 94th Aero Squadron in June 1918. America's leading fighter ace with 26 victories, Rickenbacker eventually received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
During the interwar years, Rickenbacker married Adelaide Frost Durant in 1922. They adopted two children, David and William.
In 1927, Rickenbacker purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and operated the track until 1945, significantly upgrading the facilities. Also instrumental in the development of commercial aviation at this time, he served as general manager and president of Eastern Airlines while continuing to set aviation records.
During WWII, Rickenbacker again volunteered to serve his country, flying overseas to evaluate Allied military bases. On one such trip, which also included a mission to deliver a top secret message from the Secretary of War to General Douglas MacArthur, his plane when down over the Pacific. Rickenbacker and the other survivors were adrift on life rafts for 24 days before being rescued.
Rickenbacker was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1965.
A beloved hero of American aviation, "Captain Eddie" died in July 1973 in Zurich, Switzerland. He is buried at Green Lawn Cemetery in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.