Dr Theodore von Kármán

Go to the VKI Web Siteis considered to be one of the greatest aeronautical scientists of the twentieth century.

Dr Theodore von Kármán's lifelong mission of scientific cooperation was inherited from his father, Maurice von Kármán, a distinguished philosopher and educator at the university of Budapest, who at the beginning of the last century predicted that in about fifty years, scientific understanding would transcend national boundaries and lead to international cooperative ventures. NATO's Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) and the Defence Research Group  (DRG) where, in a very general sense, creations by the son bearing out the prediction of the father half a century earlier.

Theodore von Kármán was a true international engineering scientist and his interests went far beyond aerospace engineering as is evident from his activities, his publications and lectures.

He was a man with  ideas, a man with outstanding contributions to the aeronautical engineering sciences, who managed to convince the Military and civilian authorities of the importance to stay ahead in the aeronautical sciences and was prepared in his later years to spend much of his time to lead the aeronautical community to an effective form of international cooperation. There was an inherited basic philosophy that inspired him, and the  literature bears witness to this and his enormously productive life. Von Kármán was over 70 years old when he founded AGARD in 1952 and for more than ten years he personally guided and inspired all those who were associated with AGARD. He shared with them his rich scientific experience and imparted to them his philosophical wisdom.  It is also following his proposal that the von Kármán Institute (VKI) was created in 1956.  The Institute is currently supported with subsidies from most of the member countries of NATO and with an income derived from contract research.

Dr von Kármán's  famous statement

Famous statement made by Dr von Kármán

Personal Data

Born: Budapest, Hungary, May 11, 1881, the son of Prof. Maurice von Kármán and Helene (Konn) Kármán

Citizenship: Naturalized, USA, 1936

Home: Pasadena, California

Died: Aachen, Germany, May 7, 1963, while Chairman of AGARD


M.E., Royal Technical University, Budapest, Hungary, 1902

PhD., University of Göttingen, Germany, 1908


Research Engineer, Ganz and Company, Germany, 1903 - 1906

Assistant Professor, Royal Technical University, Budapest, Hungary, 1903 - 1906

Privat Dozent, University of Göttingen, Germany, 1909 - 1912

Director, The Aachen Aeronautical Institute, Germany, 1912 - 1929

Officer in the Austro-Hungarian Air Corps, 1914 - 1918

Consultant, Junkers Airplane Works, Germany, 1912 - 1928

Consultant, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, Germany, 1924 - 1928

Consultant, Handley-Page Ltd., England, 1926 - 1930

Advisor and Consultant on Design of Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratories, California Institute of Technology and of the 10-foot Wind Tunnel of the Laboratories, 1926 - 1927

Consultant, Kawanishi Airplane Company, Japan, 1927 - 1929

Research Associate, California Institute of Technology, 1928 - 1930

Designed Kobe Wind Tunnel, Japan, 1927

Director, Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratories, California Institute of Technology, 1930 - 1949

Director, Guggenheim Airship Institute, Akron, Ohio, 1930 - 1935

Honorary Rouse Ball Lectureship, Royal Aeronautical Society, 1937

Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 1938 - 1945

Consultant, Army Air Corps and US Air Force, 1939 - 1963

Consultant, The Ballistic Research Laboratory (US Army), Aberdeen Proving Ground, 1938 - 1952

Consultant, General Electric Company, 1940 - 1960

Consultant on board to investigate collapse of Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Washington State), 1942

Consultant, Northrop Aircraft Company, California, 1941 - 1949

Consultant on High Speed Wind Tunnel, Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1941 - 1943

Consultant in development of Pumping Equipment for Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, 1934 - 1938

Consultant on the Grand Coulee Dam Project, 1939 - 1942

Consultant on the Smith-Putnam Wind Turbine for Development of Electricity, 1939 - 1941

Member of the Special Committee appointed by the US Navy to investigate the Akron and Macon dirigible disasters, 1933 - 1937

Consultant to the Army Air Corps on Design of the 20-foot Wind Tunnel, Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 1939 - 1941

Founder of the Aerojet Engineering Corporation (now Aerojet-General Corporation), 1942

Chairman, Scientific Advisory Board to the Chief of Staff US Air Force, 1944 - 1955

Consultant, Convair Division of General Dynamics Corporation, San Diego, California, 1955 - 1963

Consultant and Chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee, Allison Division of General Motors, 1958 - 1963

Director, NAS-ARDC Summer Study Groups, 1957 - 1958

Victor Emanuel Visiting Professor for Engineering, Cornell University, 1959

Consultant and Member of the Board, of the Tool Research and Engineering Corporation, Los Angeles, California, 1960 - 1963

Member of the Board of The Washington Planetarium and Space Center, Washington, DC, 1961

Honorary Professor, Columbia University. Since 1948

Professor Emeritus, California Institute of Technology. Since 1949

President of Honor and Member of the International Union of the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM), 1951

Honorary President and Member of the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS), 1958

Honorary President, Institut du Transport Aérien, 1960

Chief Consultant and Chairman of the Technical Advisory Board of the Aerojet-General Corporation, Azusa, California. Till 1963

Scientific Director and Honorary Chairman of the Board, General Applied Science Laboratories, Inc., Westbury, Long Island, New York (Formerly The Gruen Applied Science Laboratories,Inc), 1955 - 1963

Chairman, Board of Directors, Training Center for Experimental Aerodynamics, Rhode-Saint-Genèse, Belgium, now known as the von Kármán Institute for Fluid Dynamics, VKI. Till 1963.

Director, International Academy of Astronautics of the IAF, Paris, France. Till 1963

Editor in Chief of Astronautica Acta

Chairman, Astronautics Foundation, Inc., Washington, DC, until 1963

Chairman, Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development (AGARD) of NATO, 1952 - 1963

Theodore Von Kármán published well over two hundred papers and books and lectured in a great many countries. During his career he received many Honorary Degrees, Awards and Titles.

Two of the honours must be mentioned here:

In July 1962 the Chairman of the NATO Council, Mr. D.U.Stikker, presented to von Kármán an engraved gold medal in recognition of his outstanding scientific achievements, inspiring leadership, and promotion of international scientific cooperation in the NATO Alliance.

In February 1963 President Kennedy presented him at the White House with the first National Medal of Science, stating: "I know of no one else who so completely represents all the areas involved in this medal - science, engineering and education."