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John D. Akerman papers

Identifier: ua01025


Collection contains the papers of John D. Akerman, Professor Emeritus of Aeronautical Engineering and Director of the Rosemount Aeronautical Laboratories at the University of Minnesota.


  • 1917-1960s


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Note

John D. Akerman was born in Latvia on April 24, 1897. He graduated from the Aeronautical School at the Imperial Technical Institute in Moscow in 1916, and served in the Imperial Russian Air Service as a pilot in France during WWI. Akerman came to the United States in 1918, and continued his education at the University of Michigan, where he obtained a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering in 1925. He went on to work as an engineer for the Stout-Ford All-Metal Aircraft company, taught aerodynamics at Detroit City College and the Cass Technical High School, and was later employed as the chief engineer for Hamilton Metal Plane Company in Milwaukee and Mohawk Aircraft Corporation in Minneapolis where he specialized in the design and construction of aircraft.

Akerman began a long teaching and research career at the University of Minnesota in 1929 when he was appointed Associate Professor in Aeronautical Engineering and Instructor in the Extension Division. When the Department of Aeronautical Engineering was established in 1930 at the initiation of Ora Leland, Dean of the College of Architecture and Engineering, Akerman was promoted to Professor and Acting Head of the department, and recognized as Head in 1931. (1)

In the 1930s, Akerman was a consultant to various projects - experimental rotor for the Madaras Rotor Power Plant; pressurized pursuit plane for the Porterfield Aircraft and Engineering Corporation - and also served as the Commissioner of Aeronautics for the state of Minnesota from 1934-1937. In the laboratory at the University, Professor Akerman and his students designed and constructed an experimental tailless aircraft (X-14880). (2) Akerman also introduced coursework in stratospheric flight, and conducted studies with high altitude balloons in collaboration with Dr. Jean Piccard. In the fall quarter of 1939-1940, Akerman was granted a sabbatical leave of absence to study advancements in aeronautics in Europe. (3)

During the 1940s, Akerman continued his consulting work for projects with the Boeing Aircraft Corporation, Minneapolis Honeywell Regulator Company, and the U.S. government. His work for Boeing contributed to the design of a wing section (airfoil) for the B-29 Superfortress bomber aircraft. Akerman also founded the Strato Equipment Company, through which he collaborated with Boeing, and researchers at the Mayo Clinic, among others, to develop pressure suits designed to withstand high altitudes.

In 1946, Akerman was a driving force behind the University of Minnesota’s acquisition of the Gopher Ordnance Works, a decommissioned government gunpowder plant and administration facility in Rosemount, Minnesota. Akerman utilized existing equipment and expanded upon facilities there to establish a laboratory for supersonic aeronautical research. (4) Akerman continued as the head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering until 1958, when an administrative reorganization within the Institute of Technology resulted in a merger with the Department of Mechanics and Materials. The Rosemount Aeronautical Laboratories was established as an independent unit within IT, and Akerman continued as Professor and Director of the lab until his retirement in 1962. (5)

John D. Akerman passed away on January 8, 1972 at the age of 74. In 1979, a Memorial Fund was created by alumni to establish the John D. Akerman Visiting Professorship in Aircraft Design. In 1980, the Aeronautical Engineering building located at 110 Union St. SE on the East Bank of the Twin Cities campus, was named Akerman Hall.


(1) Board of Regents Meeting Minutes: May 12, 1931.
(2) “Tailless Airplane, Developed at ‘U’ in 30’s Donated to Smithsonian,” UMN News Service, June 11, 1970: Press Releases, April-July, 1970.
(3) Employment Record, Biographical File; Board of Regents Minutes: June 16, 1939.
(4) For additional background on the establishment and development of what became the Rosemount Research Center/UMore Park, see Lauber, John, “A History Interpretation and Preservation Plan for UMore Park,” 2006.
(5) Board of Regents Meeting Minutes: April 11, 1958; Board of Regents Meeting Minutes: June 9, 1962.


9 boxes


The collection is organized into series by subject and/or type of material.

Source of acquisition

The collection comprises materials deposited in two parts to the University Archives, first by the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics on September 1 1993, and second by the Dept. of Aeronautical Engineering on April 7 1994. A third accession was donated in 2018.

Related Materials in the Immigration History Research Center Archives

John D. Akerman papers
Kyle Boeser; Rebecca Toov
December 2020
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • December 2020: Biographical Note updated, Contents list added

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area