Al Schwimmer

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Al Schwimmer
Al Schwimmer
Schwimmer in 1955
Adolph (Al) Schwimmer

(1917-06-10)June 10, 1917
DiedJune 10, 2011(2011-06-10) (aged 94)
Ramat Gan, Israel
Spouse(s)Rena Schwimmer
AwardsIsrael Prize (2006)

Adolph William "Al" Schwimmer (Hebrew: אל שווימר‎;‎ 10 June 1917 – 10 June 2011) was an American and later Israeli engineer and businessman. He was the founder and first CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries.


Schwimmer was born in New York City in 1917 to Jewish parents who had emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. He never used his given birth name of Adolph, preferring the nickname "Al".[1]

In 1939, Schwimmer began his aerospace career at Lockheed Corporation as an engineer and also received his civilian pilot license. During World War II, he worked for TWA and assisted the U.S. Air Transport Command as a flight engineer.[2]

During Israel's War of Independence, Schwimmer used his World War II experience and his contacts to smuggle surplus war planes to Israel as that fledgling state battled against the invading armies of its neighbors.[3] Schwimmer reflected on what motivated these actions in an interview with Boaz Dvir. The alternative was described as a "Second Holocaust [...] they believed that those 600,000 Jews were going to die."[4] Using circuitous routes, he also recruited the pilots and crews to fly the planes to Israel. Many of these men became the nucleus of the Israeli Air Force.[3]

In 1949, Schwimmer returned to the United States and, in 1950, he was convicted in the United States of violating the US Neutrality Acts for smuggling the planes into Israel. Schwimmer was stripped of his voting rights and veteran benefits and fined $10,000, but did not receive a prison sentence. Schwimmer refused to ask for a pardon, believing that smuggling weapons to help create a Jewish State was the right moral decision to make, and that breaking the law was a proper form of moral civil disobedience. In 2001 President Bill Clinton gave Schwimmer a presidential pardon.[3]

In the early 1950s, Schwimmer, who was running an aircraft maintenance company in Burbank, California, was approached by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's then prime minister, who asked Schwimmer to return to Israel and establish an aircraft company for commercial and military purposes.[3] Schwimmer acceded to Ben Gurion's request and founded Israel Aerospace Industries, of which he became the first CEO.[2]

1958 passport issued to Al Schwimmer which he used on his official trips as head of the IAI.

Schwimmer was one of the founders of Savyon, but later moved to Tel Aviv.[5]

In the mid-1980s, Schwimmer was a special adviser for technology and industry for Israel's then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who became a close friend.[3]

Schwimmer died on his 94th birthday in Ramat Gan.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2015, his exploits during Israel's War of Independence were depicted in the PBS documentary A Wing and a Prayer, written, directed, and produced by Boaz Dvir. The film contains the only public interview Schwimmer gave in light of these events.[7]


  • In 2006, Schwimmer was awarded the Israel Prize, for his lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the State.[2][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ JTA (June 15, 2011). "Al Schwimmer, Father of Air Force". The Forward. Archived from the original on 24 June 2011. Retrieved June 18, 2011. Schwimmer, who understandably never used his given birth name of Adolph, resisted all entreaties to write his memoirs, asking, 'Who would be interested?'
  2. ^ a b c "Israel Prize winner Al Schwimmer dies on 94th birthday", The Jerusalem Post.
  3. ^ a b c d e Al Schwimmer, creator of Israel’s Air Force, dies, JTA, 2011-06-12, archived from the original on 2011-06-14.
  4. ^ Golan, Guy. "Putting Nazi Weapons in Jewish Hands | The Public Diplomat". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  5. ^ "Al Schwimmer, NY‐born Father of Israel's Aerospace Industry, Dies at 94", Ha’aretz.
  6. ^ "Al Schwimmer, founder of Israel Aircraft Industries, dies at 94", Haaretz, 10 June 2011 (confirming date of death as 10 June 2011).
  7. ^ "Israeli Air Force, particularly its scrappy beginnings, inspires 3 films". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
  8. ^ "Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient". Israel Prize (official site) (in Hebrew). Archived from the original on 2011-06-25.

External links[edit]