Eugene F. McDonald Jr.—better known as “The Commander”—was a high school dropout who, by the time of his death in 1958, had amassed a fortune worth $30 million. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, McDonald joined the Naval Intelligence service, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. During the war he operated a telegraphone, an early recording device that utilized a long piece of wire, an electromagnet, and a telephone.
In 1923, he joined two other entrepreneurs to create the Zenith Corporation (formerly Chicago Radio Labs). Among their accomplishments: the world’s first portable radio, the first home radio receivers to operate on household current, and the first automatic push-button radio tuning. Yearning for adventure, McDonald bought the USS Mizpah, a 185-foot United States Navy Patrol Yacht that he used as his Chicago residence. In January 1930 he gathered a group of archaeologists, armed the Mizpah with high-powered rifles, revolvers, automatic pistols, a machine gun, and a divining rod for seeking sunken treasure, and set sail on the Pacific. One of their final stops would be Floreana on the Galápagos Islands, where they encountered Dore and Friedrich. McDonald’s report of this “modern-day Adam and Eve” would capture the world’s imagination, and inspire others—idealists and mercenaries alike—to begin anew on the island.