T.O.M. Sopwith was an important pioneer pilot, also famous for ballooning, car-racing and, especially, ocean yacht-racing. In 1912 he formed the Sopwith Aviation Co. at Kingston-on-Thames, assisted by engineer Fred Sigrist and pilot Harry Hawker (both Australian) and hiring draughtsman R.J. Ashfield. The design office and factory were in a former roller-skating rink, the aircraft being towed on own wheels to Brooklands for assembly and testing or to the Thames in case of seaplanes.
Following a series of undistinguished aircraft, Sopwith built the Bat Boat, a very successful flying-boat, followed by 13 other types prior to WWI. Then the 1½-Strutter 2-seat biplane, described as the first (British) aircraft ever to have a synchronized front gun, a gun for the observer and a well-arranged bomb load, was built in enormous numbers in the UK and in France (and Russia as well, T.H.). There followed the Pup, Triplane, Camel, Dolphin and Snipe, all built in vast numbers by a giant factory at Richmond, Hampshire, and several contractors. In the post-war years were built the Dove and the Gnu, but a large war-profit tax bill prompted liquidation of the company in September 1920. Business was resumed under the name of H.G. Hawker Engineering.