William Edward (Colonel) Easterwood, Jr., philanthropist and aviation enthusiast, was born on November 5, 1883, at Wills Point, Texas, to William Edward and Mollie (Busby) Easterwood. He attended the public schools at Wills Point, began his business career as a newsboy, and later worked as a traveling factory representative. During World War I he served in the United States Marine Corps as a private, saw action in France, and was discharged a captain. He moved to Wichita Falls in September 1920 and organized and managed the Wichita Falls Cooperative Supply Company. Though he was born to wealth, he made his own fortune in the chewing-gum business and other enterprises in the late 1920s. During the depression years his chewing-gum company made $3 million annually.
Easterwood adopted Dallas as his hometown and provided valuable public-relations services. For several years he served as the city's official greeter, and his world travels and unofficial position of "goodwill ambassador" did much to spotlight Dallas and Texas. He offered a $25,000 prize for the first one-stop flight from Paris to New York to Dallas, which was collected in 1930 by the French flyers Coste and Bellonte. He also offered prizes for Rome-Dallas and Dallas-Hong Kong flights, but they were never claimed. Easterwood was a director of the Dallas National Bank, vice president of Vanette Hosiery Mills, manager and director of the Easterwood estate, and an advisory board member of Southern Methodist University; he also chaired the city's aviation committee from 1935 to 1937.
He was instrumental in developing airports in a number of cities in the Southwest. The Mineral Wells airport was named for him. In his booklet What Aviation Means to This Country (ca. 1930) Easterwood proposed that commercial aviation be developed to provide a basis for a national aviation defense. He was a member of the Aeronautical Society of Paris, the International Aeronautical Association, the National Aeronautical Association, and the national advisory board of the American Air Cadets, which recognized him as the American who had done the most for United States civil aviation.
Easterwood served in 1933 as national vice commander of the American Legion, organized the American Legion departments of Great Britain, Belgium, and Greece, was awarded the French Legion of Honor, and, on a trip to Italy, made Benito Mussolini an honorary member of the American Legion. He later denounced Mussolini when the Italian dictator joined Hitler's war against Britain and France. Easterwood was for a time vice president of the United States Marine Corps League. He received an American Legion national citation for his work on Americanism, national defense, and aviation. In 1939 he was awarded a special diploma at the San Francisco International Exposition as ambassador of goodwill for the state of Texas. Several state governors on whose staffs Easterwood worked conferred the title of "Colonel" on him.
Easterwood is credited with bringing the first talking movie to Texas. His favorite charities included both the National and Texas societies for Crippled Children and annual dinners for needy Dallas children and veterans at the Baker Hotel. He was a Mason and a Methodist. He married Mae Coker in November 1928, and they had no children. Suffering from a heart ailment, Easterwood moved with his wife to California about 1938 for his health. He died at Santa Monica on August 25, 1940, of a heart attack; his body was brought back to Dallas for burial.