The Stinson Aircraft Company was founded in Dayton, Ohio, in 1920 by aviator Edward “Eddie” Stinson. After five years of business ventures, Stinson made Detroit, Michigan the focus for his future flying endeavors. Stinson found Detroit's business community receptive to his plans. A group of local businessmen — the Detroit Board of Commerce's Aviation Committee — supported Stinson's plans to establish the Stinson Aircraft Syndicate in 1925 at a site southwest of Detroit, where today's Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport is located, and provided $25,000 to develop a new monoplane; the Stinson SM-1 Detroiter made its first flight on January 25, 1926, and became an overnight success that enabled Stinson to quickly assemble $150,000 in public capital to incorporate the Stinson Aircraft Corporation on May 4, 1926. Always an aviator at heart, Eddie Stinson was still flying as a stunt pilot, earning $100,000 a year for his efforts — a huge sum in those days. Stinson Aircraft Corporation sold 10 SM-1 Detroiters in 1926. Business was steadily increasing, and Stinson delivered 121 aircraft in 1929.
Automobile mogul Errett Lobban (E.L.) Cord acquired 60 percent of Stinson's stock in September 1929, and his Cord Corporation provided additional investment capital to permit Stinson to sell its aircraft at a competitive price while still pursuing new designs. At the height of the Depression in 1930, Stinson offered six aircraft models, ranging from the four-seat Junior to the Stinson 6000 trimotor airliner.
Eddie Stinson did not live to enjoy the success of his company. He died in an air crash in Chicago, Illinois on January 26, 1932, while on a sales trip. At the time of his death at age 38, Stinson had acquired more than 16,000 hours of flight time — more than any other pilot at the time.
The Stinson name did not last much past the end of World War II. Eddie Stinson's tragic death accelerated the assimilation of Stinson Aircraft Corporation into larger corporate entities: first by Cord Corporation, then by Aviation Corporation (AVCO), and later by Consolidated Vultee. By 1950 the Stinson company was sold to the Piper Aircraft Corporation, which continued to produce 108s for a limited time. Piper transformed an original Stinson design (the "Twin Stinson") into the successful Piper Apache, the world's first general aviation all-metal twin engine modern aircraft.
Two new Stinson designs — the 1931 Stinson Model W and the 1932 Stinson Model R-2/3 — were powered by Wright or Lycoming radial engines and combined dependable performance with a luxurious cabin. These two models were the ancestors of the most famous of the Stinson line — the Reliant, first introduced in 1933.
From 1933 to 1941, Stinson delivered 1,327 Reliants—ranging from the SR-1 through the SR-10 — each variation building upon its predecessor with upgraded engines and design refinements. The Stinson Reliant SR-10, introduced in 1938, was considered the ultimate, featuring leather upholstery, walnut instrument panels, and automobile-style roll-down windows.
Also in 1933 Stinson introduced its last trimotor airliner, the Stinson Model A.
By August 1939 Stinson had received more than 100 orders and the company’s plant at Wayne, Michigan was rolling out three aircraft each day. Jimmy Stewart, air-minded Hollywood movie star, and Howard Hughes were some of the more notable Voyager owners. Introduced in 1939, Stinson sold 535 Voyagers in 1939 and 1940 before World War II intervened and the Stinson aircraft line was adapted for an important mission. A few prewar Voyagers were commandeered for wartime use and designated the AT-19/L-9.
The 105 Voyager was substantially redesigned to become the U.S. Army's L-5 Sentinel which was one of the most used and least recognized U.S. aircraft of the Second World War. Serving as a short field takeoff and landing liaison aircraft, the L-5 Sentinel supported missions such as artillery spotting, medical evacuation, aerial reconnaissance, and passenger transport. Stinson delivered 3,590 of the versatile Sentinels between November 1942 and September 1945 under a variety of designations from L-5, L-5B, L-5C, L-5E and L-5G. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps received 306 Sentinels from the Army, designating their models as the OY-1 and OY-2, while two versions went to the Royal Air Force as the Sentinel Mk. I and Sentinel Mk. II. After the war, most Sentinels were sold for surplus, but a number of aircraft (now designated the U-19) served in the Korean conflict. A few Sentinels remained in active military service until the late 1950s. An owners club dedicated to the L-5 hosts a website at http://www.sentinelclub.org