Paul Kollsman

Paul Kollsman was born in Freudenstadt, in southern Germany, on 22 February 1900. After completing school, he studied engineering and science at the Technical University of Munich. Kollsman invented a new type of automobile engine, but failed to sell it to German car manufacturers, so he immigrated to the USA in 1923. After briefly working as a truck driver, he found employment as a sales representative at Pioneer Instrument Company in New York. At the time, altimeters were inaccurate and could only determine an aircraft’s altitude within a few hundred feet of its actual altitude. During his time at Pioneer Instrument Company, Kollsman invented the world’s first accurate barometric altimeter. After failing to convince his superiors of his invention’s potential, Kollsman quit his job and founded his own company, ‘Kollsman Instruments Company’, in 1928. During the following year, his altimeter was used in a test flight by Jimmy Doolittle, an aviation pioneer who would later became famous for masterminding the ‘Doolittle Raid’ in World War II. In 1929, with the help of Kollsman’s altimeter, Doolittle became the first pilot to take off, fly and land using aircraft instruments, without a view outside his aircraft’s cockpit. The aviation and defence industries instantly realised the value of Kollsman’s altimeter. In 1939, he sold his company for $4 million, but continued to serve as a consultant. About two and half decades later, the company founded by Kollsman developed instruments that were used in Apollo spacecraft. Over the course of his life as an inventor, Kollsman filed more than 200 patents. He died in Beverly Hills, California, on 26 September 1982, at the age of 82. As a tribute to the inventor of the first accurate altimeter, the barometric pressure setting window on an aircraft’s altimeter is known as the ‘Kollsman Window’.