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Six Amazing Stories About Aero Industries’ Founding Father, Paul Fredrick Tuerk

Ever thought history was a dull subject? Not this history! Before he started the company that would become Aero Industries in 1944, Paul Frederick Tuerk already had a lifetime’s worth of experiences. From escaping death twice to founding a ladies lingerie business, this entrepreneurial-minded immigrant had a lucky streak and an eye for business. These stories about Tuerk offer a glimpse into our founding father’s narrow brushes with disaster and bold entrepreneurship. Innovation really is in our DNA.


He almost went down with the Titanic

Tuerk’s adventures began in 1912. Thanks to a late train, he narrowly missed the boat he’d planned to take from Europe to New York: The RMS Titanic. The wreck of that ship became one of the most famous disasters in history, claiming the lives of more than 1,500 people — but, fortunately, not Tuerk’s.


A Victrola saved his life

After working as a bookkeeper in Chicago, Tuerk and his brother Carl moved to Montana, where they gave it a go as potato farmers. During a torrential rainstorm, Tuerk sought shelter in a sod-roofed barn that housed, aside from a horse, a large Victrola music player. When the sod and mud of the roof caved in during the storm, Paul crawled close to the device. The size and sturdiness of the Victrola’s cabinet stopped him from getting crushed, and he evaded death for the second time.


He played piano for a living during world war I

In 1914, Tuerk moved back to Chicago. World War I bred distrust of anything German, so many German immigrants fell on hard times during these years. Luckily, Tuerk found a job as a piano player at a theater, playing background music for silent films. Around that time, he met the woman who would become his wife, Viola Mueller. The two would have three children together. Their two sons, Robert and Paul Richard, would later join the family business.


He got his start in the lingerie business

Ever the entrepreneur, Tuerk started a series of lingerie businesses, attempting to sell women’s bras and slips through magazines, then via mail-order catalogs. He worked with a female designer from France, Mrs. Darsh. Despite a great deal of hard work and determination, his products didn’t sell well enough to provide stability for his family. The early days of the Great Depression were a hard time to start a business.


Silk hosiery brought him to Indianapolis

Next, Marshall Fields & Company hired Tuerk to run its lace and underwear factory. When Marshall Fields closed many of its plants, including the lingerie factory Tuerk managed, he found yet another opportunity. In 1938, he moved to Indianapolis to work with Real Silk Hosiery. But when the Germans invaded Poland the next year, the U.S. government took over the hosiery plant to manufacture parachutes for the war effort.


He bootstrapped his own business while moonlighting

Later in 1939, Tuerk found a job with Hoosier Tarpaulin, making army tents. A friend encouraged him to start his own business, Aero Canvasing Products, in 1944. The new company made and sold wax-coated tarps.

Tuerk continued to work his day job and did all the work for his new company in the evening at 385 Shelby Street in Indianapolis. Those were long, hard days, but his moonlighting soon paid off. When the owner of Hoosier Tarpaulin, Victor Goldberg, discovered that his chief competition was coming from an employee, he called Aero’s phone number. Tuerk answered, and Goldberg fired him on the spot.

Now Tuerk was free to focus on his tarp business, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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