Women's History Month: Meet the first woman in the aviation industry

  • Published
  • By Allyson B. Crawford, AFLCMC Public Affairs
Her name isn’t widely known, but she had a major impact on the aviation industry. In fact, Ida Holdgreve is considered the first woman to work in the aviation industry. Smithsonian Magazine recently shared a profile of her accomplishments as part of Women’s History Month.  

In 1910, Holdgreve, a native of Delphos, Ohio, answered a newspaper ad for “plain sewing.” The ad was placed by Wilbur and Orville Wright, looking for a seamstress to outfit the surfaces of the brother’s airplanes. The work was conducted at the Dayton-based Wright Company factory. Holdgreve was the only woman to work on the floor of the factory.   

With the help of a large sewing machine, Holdgreve created airplane wings, fins, rudders and stabilizers. She stretched fabric tightly over the frame of each plane to withstand wind damage. When damage or accidents occurred, she stitched up the holes so the plane could get back in the air.

The Wright Company was sold in 1915. Two years later, Holdgreve went to work supervising seamstresses for the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company. One of the planes the women worked on at Dayton-Wright included the DH-4, used during World War I. Despite her many contributions to the field of aviation, Holdgreve was 88 before she took her first airplane ride. She died in 1977 at the age of 95. 
 The DH-4

Above: The DH-4. Holdgreve managed a team of seamstresses working on planes like this for use during World  War I. (Photo: National Museum of the United States Air Force.) 

Today, the tradition of seamstresses and tailors having an impact on the business of flight continues. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is home to the Uniform Office (AFUO). Designers with immense sewing skills help craft service dress, utility, mess dress, maternity and physical training uniforms used by Airmen. Keeping in mind that men and women have very different body shapes, a recent focus of the AFUO is creating more functional and comfortable uniforms for female Airmen. Some changes include updating slacks with a lowered waist line, a flat front and adding more pockets. The AFUO is also actively working on maternity flight suits to continue flight currency standards longer into pregnancy. New PT uniforms were just announced.