Entrepreneur, inventor, philanthropist, musician, and innovator Charles Kaman founded Kaman Corp., designed Ovation Guitars, and, with his wife Roberta, developed the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation.
Kamen’s contribution to Connecticut entrepreneurship and innovation ranks with inventors including H. Joseph Gerber, Robert Jarvik, and Igor Sikorsky.
A History of Entrepreneurship: Aircraft Innovation
Kaman was fascinated by aerospace and competed in national model-glider competitions. Although he would have liked to become a pilot, deafness in one ear kept him from attending pilot’s school. Instead, Kaman studied aeronautical engineering at Catholic University.
An innovative inventor, Kaman began his aircraft experience by working for aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky. In 1945, using $2,000 invested by two friends, he founded the Kaman Aircraft Company in the garage of his mother’s West Hartford, CT home.
Kaman started the company to demonstrate a new rotor concept he developed to make helicopters more stable and easier to fly.
The turbine engines he created enhanced helicopters, enabling them to fly higher and faster than prior models. The innovative design was adopted by many other helicopter manufacturers.
Kaman Corp. was known for producing the HH-43 Huskie, a helicopter with intermeshing rotors that featured Kaman’s signature twin-rotor design. HH-43 Huskie were used by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps from the 1950s until the 1970s.
Kaman Corp. later became a major supplier of aerospace solutions including as ball bearings and industrial supplies. A billion-dollar company, Kaman Corp., has become a worldwide leader in the aviation industry.
In the mid-1960s, Kaman founded Ovation Instruments, which later became Ovation Guitars. Kaman, who was a guitar enthusiast, used his insight about acoustic vibrations and composite materials to develop an acoustic guitar that featured a signature rounded-back design.
Well-known Ovation guitar clients have included Melissa Etheridge, Mark Knopfler, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Shania Twain, and Eddie Van Halen.
Kaman was also a dog lover. He and his wife were dedicated to training guide dogs to work with the blind. In the 1960s, the couple developed a German Shepard breed to act as guide dogs. They subsequently created the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which places about 75 dogs annually with the disabled.
In 2001, Kaman retired from his position as chairman of Kaman Corp. He passed away on January 31, 2011 at the age of 91, leaving behind a legacy of entrepreneurship and innovation.
- The Hartford Courant, Kamen Corp.
- Ovation Guitars, The Wall Street Journal