Von Kármán, born into a Jewish family in Budapest, left Europe in 1930 to accept a position at the California Institute of Technology. He was the driving force behind the creation of Aerojet.
He began his professional career by designing a crude helicopter. Von Kármán rose to prominence as a mathematician who contributed to the development of the concept of supersonic flight by studying turbulence, airfoils, and supersonic aerodynamics. During World War II, von Kármán worked as a consultant for the Air Force, providing advice on German rocket capability. He was the driving force behind creating NATO’s aeronautics research group.