The entrepreneur and publisher Silvius J. Dornier died on Sunday (June 19, 2022) in Munich at the age of 95. He was a son of the famous aviation pioneer Claude Dornier and a central figure in a family that made German industrial and aviation history.
Dornier was born on April 12, 1927 in Friedrichshafen as one of nine children of Claude Dornier. When he was two, the legendary flying boat “Do X” developed by his father took off on Lake Constance.
The aircraft, powered by twelve propellers, was by far the largest aircraft in the world at the time and still inspires aviation fans around the world to this day. A black-and-white shot of the aircraft, registered “D-1929,” against the backdrop of New York’s skyscrapers has become emblematic of the pioneering years of commercial aviation.
Silvius Dornier followed in his father’s footsteps and studied mechanical engineering and aircraft construction at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich after the war. Together with his older brothers, he joined the management of his father’s company, which had escaped the originally planned break-up and gradually got back into aircraft construction.
Years followed in which the family business played a key role in shaping the development of aviation in Germany and around the world. A milestone was the maiden flight of the DO-31 in 1967, it was one of the first vertical take-off aircraft in the world.
Then the company and family history was shattered by a series of deaths. Company founder Claude Dornier died in 1969. As a result, there were disputes about the entrepreneurial legacy and a partial division of the business shares. Two years after the father, one of his sons, Donatus, died in a traffic accident.
Silvius, badly hit by the blows of fate, left the management of Dornier in 1971. Six years later he also lost his wife Esther in an accident in the mountains.
In 1985, after a spectacular takeover thriller in which several large companies vied for the aircraft manufacturer, the Dornier Group was finally sold to Daimler-Benz.
Silvius initially remained a shareholder and became a member of the supervisory board. But soon he increasingly devoted himself to other entrepreneurial activities. He founded a family office, which later became the asset management company Do-Investment.
After German reunification, he acquired several former GDR publishers and gradually built up a publishing group under whose umbrella a wide variety of non-fiction titles ranging from cultural and military history to spirituality and life support were published, and from which he only parted shortly before his 80th birthday .
Silvius Dornier also acquired two formerly state-owned farms in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania from the trust, on which he set up a model farm for organic farming and converted a castle estate into a hotel. He later bought more agricultural land in the Allgäu, in Romania and South America.
In the last phase of his life, Silvius Dornier established two foundations. The Esther and Silvius Dornier Foundation is dedicated to supporting gifted children and awards school scholarships. With the Dornier Foundation for Aerospace History, Silvius Dornier set up a museum in his hometown of Friedrichshafen, in which the aircraft built by the family company are shown in their historical context.
Dornier died on Sunday morning surrounded by his family in Munich. He leaves behind seven children and numerous grandchildren.