Cessna was born in 1879. Growing up on a Kansas farm, he developed an aptitude for mechanics and became an expert at repairing farm machinery and early automobiles. After seeing a barnstorming aerial show, he became interested in aircraft. With no formal engineering training, he designed and built his first airplane, using a wing design still in use. His first successful near Enid, OK, was in 1911, eight years after the Wright brothers flight.
Following World War I, Cessna teamed with Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman to organize Travel Air Manufacturing Co. in Wichita. In 1925, the trio flew their first designed plane, an open cockpit biplane. In 1927, Cessna left the firm to form his own company, Cessna Aircraft Co. During the 1930s, the firm manufactured racing and sport aircraft.
During World War II, under the leadership of Cessna's nephew Dwane Wallace, a variety of military aircraft were produced using Cessna designs. Cessna used no U.S. Government funds but financed all activities on its own. Following World War II, Cessna led in the number of commercial private planes. Mr. Cessna died in 1954.