Martin Summerfield was born in Brooklyn, the son of a Russian New York Life Insurance salesman, and moved by age 4 to Los Angeles. A child prodigy, he returned to Brooklyn to live with relatives by age 14, graduating from Brooklyn College with a BS in Physics at the age of 20. He was granted a research fellowship at CalTech, where he received his masters in 1937 and doctorate in 1941. Attracted by the salary of $200 per month, he joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as Assistant Chief Engineer in July 1940. He roomed with Frank Malina, and shared his passionate desire to develop rocket engines for space travel. Within a year, the JPL group felt they had advanced liquid rocket technology beyond that achieved by Robert Goddard or Eugen Saenger (but they did not know of von Braun and Saenger's ongoing secret work for the Nazi regime). During this initial research period Summerfield made fundamental discoveries regarding hydrocarbon fuel burning times and regenerative cooling. These changed Aerojet's liquid propellant engine designs from 'technical impossibilities' to reality.
In the spring of 1942, Summerfield led the group that made the first permanent installation of a liquid propellant rocket on an aircraft, a Douglas A20 bomber. In 1943 Summerfield became one of the five founding members of the Aerojet Company, with the objective of commercializing the rocket technology they were developing.
In 1944 the Pentagon forced the purchase of Aerojet by General Tire and Rubber, which brought in a management team of politically-connected tire salesmen to regulate the unruly scientists and increase sales to the Pentagon. Summerfield left the next year, to pursue scientific rocket research again at the as Head, Rocket Research Division of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Then in 1949 he took a position as a Professor of Aeroespace Engineering at Princeton, spending the remainder of his life there pursuing the theoretical aspects of combustion physics. From 1975 to 1994 he was Chief Scientist, and later President, of the Princeton Combustion Research Laboratories. On his death the last of the founders of Aerojet passed on.
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York.