Historic Photo Collection, circa 1875-2000

Biography/History

William “Billy” Mitchell was born Dec 29, 1879 in Nice, France. His parents were John Lendrum Mitchell and Harriet Danforth Becker. His father, John Mitchell, was a Civil War military officer and politician. His grandfather, Alexander Mitchell, was a wealthy banker and politician. He was married twice, first to Caroline Stoddard from 1903 to1922. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Trumbull in 1923 until his death in 1936. Mitchell died Feb 19, 1936 in a hospital in New York City.

Mitchell grew up in Milwaukee and at 18 yrs. old joined the U.S. Army serving in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In World War I he was a commander in the U.S. Air Service, a division of the U.S. Army that predates the U.S. Air Force. Throughout his life he was an outspoken, persistent and, at times, controversial advocate for a stronger national defense and a separate air service military.

In 1926 he was court-martialed for insubordination for his controversial words after the crash of the U.S. Navy’s dirigible Shenandoah. He was a vocal critic of the senior military leadership of the 1925 tragedy which killed 14 crew members. Mitchell was found guilty and suspended. He resigned from the military in early 1926 before his suspension took effect. As a private citizen, he continued to speak out in regards to national defense. For his tireless advocacy, he is often considered the “father of the U.S. Air Force” even though he did not live to see it.

In 1946 and 1948, Mitchell was posthumously given the rank U.S. Army Major General and received Medal of Honor, respectively. He was the subject of the 1955 movie “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell”. In Milwaukee, General Mitchell International Airport is named for William Mitchell, Mitchell Park is named for John L. Mitchell and Mitchell Street is named for Alexander Mitchell.