Airships And Flying Machines – Real And Imagined

Airships And Flying Machines

Real And Imagined


Click on images to enlarge.    

     “An airship inventor is a man who begins by giving interviews on why it will fly, and ends by giving interviews on why it didn’t fly.” – A quote from The Minneapolis Journal, November 5, 1905, author unknown.

      To our early ancestors the solution to achieving manned flight must have seemed obvious; all one needed to do was construct a set of feathered wings.  Greek mythology tells of a boy named Icarus who did just that, but fell to his death when the wax holding the feathers together melted when he flew too close to the sun.  The plight of the mythical Icarus aside, there were those in real-life who attempted to fly via homemade wings with predictable results.  

     And not all homemade wings involved the use of feathers.  On September 23, 1854, an entertaining news item appeared in the New Orleans Daily Crescent that told of a psychic medium living in New York who was getting advice from the spirit world about how to construct a set of wings for flying purposes. His project involved the use of gutta percha, (A latex derived from Malaysian trees.), India rubber, and whalebone.   “The aforesaid medium,” the article stated in part, “when his outfit is completed, will fly off some tower across the Hudson River to Hoboken and other places.  Of course we await the result of his aerial flight with breathless interest.”     

     By the 1700’s, most would-be aviators had come to believe that the secret to aerial navigation rested with balloons, and they were partially right.   Although the idea of a balloon can be traced to ancient times beginning with the use of aerial lanterns, it wasn’t until 1783 that the first successful manned balloon flight took place.  However, balloons lacked maneuverability and were at the mercy of prevailing winds and extreme weather conditions.  Yet after centuries of trying, man had finally found a way to leave terra firma and stay there.  Then he set about to discover a way to navigate the air at will.       

Francisco Lana’s Airship – 1670

     The terms “flying machine” and “airship” actually pre-date manned balloon ascensions.  Leonardo de Vinci (1452-1519) drew sketches of  winged flying machines around the year 1500, and Francisco de Lana (1631-1687) created plans for an “airship” in 1670.  An illustration of his idea depicts a boat supported by four balloons with a sail to provide forward motion.  

     From the late 1700’s until the Wright brothers flew in 1903, the terms “airship” and “flying machine” were seemingly interchangeable until inventors began designing machine driven flying contraptions known as airplanes that didn’t require a gas bag for lift.   

     Beginning in the early 1800’s and continuing for more than a century later, there were many hopeful inventors who publicly claimed to have “perfected” an airship or flying machine, but that didn’t necessarily mean they’d actually built and flew one.    

      For example, an editorial which appeared in the Yorkville Enquirer in 1884 said in part:, “Read the newspapers of to-day, and in one of every ten you can see an article about somebody’s flying machine going to fly somewhere, at some time.  It is always in the future, and none of them ever report any actual flying.”  

     The following year  a reporter from the Evening Star, a Washington, D.C. newspaper, interviewed an examiner from the U.S. Patent Office who said in part, “We no longer issue patents for devices to enable men to fly through the air because the thing is impossible, and the office some years ago made a rule not to issue patents for impractical inventions.”  

     The same patent examiner also told the Star that “on average” the patent office received about two applications per month for patents or improvements on patents already granted for existing patents of airships and flying machines. 

     It’s unknown how many airship and flying machine patents were applied for during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and of course not all applicants received a patent, and of those that did, often times their ideas never left the drawing board.   


     Some inventors created working scale-models of their proposed aerial machines hoping to attract potential investors, but most ultimately failed to raise the necessary funds to make their concepts a reality.  And of the airships and flying machines that were actually constructed, only a small portion achieved any level of success.      

     There were no flight manuals or reference books for aspiring inventors to draw from, so each was left to his own imagination as to how mechanical flight might be achieved.  Some envisioned machines with bird-like wings, while others incorporated gas bags, sails, or mechanically driven propellers.  The propeller designs differed in size and shape, with some resembling the blades of a windmill, others the paddle wheel of a steam ship, and even contoured propellers as we know them today.  Depending on the inventor’s imagination, the power to turn the props could come from human labor, steam power, compressed air, electric batteries, or any combination of the above.       

     Many early airship design proposals incorporated a cigar-shaped gas bag with some sort of carriage mounted or suspended underneath.  Gas bag materials varied from silk, rubberized canvas, oiled cloth, and even hollow steel or aluminum.   In most cases the bags were designed to hold hot air or Hydrogen gas, but there was one inventor from Mount Carmel, Ill., who in 1891 reportedly came up with the novel idea of using the decomposition gasses given off by dead birds which he called “Buzzard Gas”.  One might surmise that he did this as a joke.         

Captain Charles A. Smith’s Airship -1896

    When it came to inventing new airship designs, to coin a phrase, “the sky was the limit”.  An article which appeared in the Alexandria Gazette & Daily Advertiser, (Alexandria, VA.), on August 25, 1819, mentioned a New Jersey man who’d built an airship and was hoping to fly it in the near future.  The article related in part: “Upon inquiry, we learn that the airship spoken of is a skeleton of wood in the form of a ship, encompassed with silk, which is to be inflated with inflammable air.  To the ship is to be attached a boat with a rudder, oars, etc. etc.  The ingenious inventor is so confident that he will be able to steer the ship, that he has gone to considerable expense in his arrangements.” 

     Another interesting example of an airship was described in an article that appeared in The (New York) Sun on April 30, 1903, under the headline, “Latest News From Europe”, which stated in part:

     “A modern Darius Green has made a flying machine that will really fly.  It was tested on Thursday by experts at Harrow with quite remarkable results.  The machinery consists of a steam engine in a boat-like carriage on small wheels , an areal screw propeller, and what looks like a great wooden sail of slats like a Venetian blind.  The machine weighs 330 pounds, and dead weights of sixteen and seventy-two pounds additional were attached during the experiments.  The inventor, Horatio Phillips, said it would take a pressure equal to a wind blowing thirty miles an hour against the 136 square feet of sail surface to lift the machine, and he produced a current by means of a 400 revolutions per minute propeller, equal to thirty-five miles per hour.  The artificial gale blown against the slats produced a vacuum and plenum on the upper and lower surfaces respectively, thus giving the greatest possible lifting power.  The experiments took place on a circular track.  On the first trial, with seventy-two pounds added weight, the machine when started ran a little way on the wheels and them mounted three or four feet into the air, and continued unsupported more than a half circuit when the extra weight was reduced to sixteen pounds.  It made a clear flight of more than three-fourths of the circuit of 600 feet.  It dropped to earth and ran on the wheels only, when its course was directly parallel with the rather strong natural breeze which was blowing.  Its speed was at the rate of twenty-eight miles an hour.  The machine is in the experimental stage, the design thus far being principally to test the new kind of aeroplane.  In that respect those results are regarded as most encouraging.”    

     While the Phillips flying machine actually made it into the air, the tests described in the article were unmanned.  

     One early airship inventor was John H. Pennington, of Baltimore, Maryland. (Not to be confused with another inventor of the same last name, Edward Joel Pennington.)  In early 1838 John went to Washington, D.C., hoping to present two airship designs to Congress and ask for federal funding to build them.      

     His first proposed airship was to be powered by steam, with lift provided by Hydrogen gas.  When completed it would measure 234 feet long, 87 feet wide, and 40 feet high, with a car mounted underneath for passengers and a pilot.

     The second airship was to be smaller and powered manually by the pilot, which could be operated silently during war time to spy on enemy positions.   

     Referring to Mr. Pennington’s invention, a notice which appeared in The Native American, (A Washington, D.C. newspaper.) on March 3, 1838, stated in part: “In order to defray the expenses of constructing a Steam or Gas Flying Machine, to carry “Express Mails;” and another, on the same principle, to move without either steam or gas – only by manual power – to reconnoiter the enemy’s camp or situation.  The latter can be constructed in a few months, and at the cheap rate of a few hundred dollars; in which the inventor hopes that the Government of the United States will duly appreciate his designs, and appropriate the sum required to construct one or both those Machines, and thereby put an immediate termination to the Indian War.” 

     John Pennington’s ideas were brought before members of Congress more than once, but after careful consideration his funding was denied.   Other inventors also sought government funding, for the idea of using an airship for military purposes had been around for decades, and every developed nation hoped to be the first to achieve “air superiority”.  

      One unnamed New York inventor, realizing the potential monetary rewards involved, tried to hedge his bets against any competition by petitioning Congress for a new law.  The following brief appeared in The Columbia Democrat, (Bloomsburg, Pa.), on March 6, 1841.

     “The Science of BallooningA scientific gentleman of New York insists upon it that he has discovered a means of propelling balloons through the air at almost any required speed and in any direction.  He wants Congress to pass a law guaranteeing all the advantages of such an invention for 50 years to any person who will propel and steer a balloon in the air at the rate of not less than ten miles per hour.  He says that in 1841 if such an act be passed a revolution will be commenced in modes of traveling such as the world has never yet beheld.  No doubt; we fear the revolution will cost some lives.” 

Rufus Porter's Dirigible Airship of 1850 Note the word "Aeroport" on the side of the ship. Illustration from The New York Sun November 23, 1913

Rufus Porter’s Aeroport

     Another early inventor of note was Rufus Porter, a New Englander  who built a twenty-two foot long working model of an airship he named “The Aeroport” that actually flew.  Porter’s model was demonstrated on several occasions inside large buildings.  Porter began his experiments in the 1830s, and envisioned a steam powered airship capable of high-speed transcontinental flight.  Unfortunately, he was never able to raise sufficient funds to bring his concept(s) to reality.      

      Yet not all flying machine ideas involved using gas bags and steam.  Some inventors opted to experiment with kites. One early description of a kite -flying machine can be found in the November 5, 1842 issue of the New York Daily Tribune.  The aircraft was the concept of a Mr. McDermott of Louisiana, who stated as follows;  “I have a Kite one hundred and ten feet in length, twenty feet broad, and tapering to each end like the wings of the fish-hawk.  Under the center of the kite I have a frame eighteen feet high in which I stand.  Under the kite are four wings which operate horizontally, like the oars of a boat.  the blades of the oars are each twenty square feet in surface.  They are moved by the muscles of the legs.  The blades of the oars are made of a series of valves resembling Venetian blinds, so that they open when they move forward, and close when the stroke is made.  The wood part is of canes, the braces wire – the kite of cotton cloth, the tail of the same material.  The kite has an angle of ten degrees to the horizon.” 

     There was no mention as to the total weight of the kite-machine, and it would seem that a man would need to be physically fit to fly it.

     There were others who experimented with man-carrying kites, and although some referred to their inventions as “flying machines”, they were still just kites, (without mechanical motors), and incapable of navigating the air at will.     

William Hanson’s Aerial Carriage
Despite the illustration, it never flew.

     On September 29, 1842, William S. Henson of England patented his design for the Henson Aerial Steam Carriage.  The steam powered aircraft was to weigh 3,000 pounds, and would reportedly be able to travel from London to India in only four days – at a rate of 75 to 100 mph.  Unfortunately it was never constructed.  

      Here in America, a Boston inventor claimed in 1890 that his airship, when completed, would be able to travel 500 miles per hour, and cross from New York to San Francisco in only six hours.        

     Airship and flying machine designs ranged from the “possible”, to the utterly ridiculous, with most falling somewhere in between.  Some envisioned airships that were akin to a flying hotel, with all the amenities of an ocean liner.  Others saw the potential use of airships in wartime, and designed military machines capable of aerial combat or for dropping bombs, as well as naval airships that could land and operate in water as a sort of flying battleship.  And still others envisioned the day when the horse and buggy would be replaced by one’s own personal flying machine.  By the early 20th century some foresaw gigantic blimps with airplane runways on top that would serve as aerial aircraft carriers.       


Airship Nearing Completion – 1892

     Inventing an airship or flying machine was the easy part. However actually building one required money, and lots of it.  One not only needed the right materials, which in some cases had to be custom manufactured, but they also needed a secure location to  construct their invention away from prying eyes of competitors and potential saboteurs.  Capitol was generally raised through private investors, or in some cases, for those with the right political connections, through the government.  

      Meanwhile skeptics maintained that air travel was impossible, or at the very least, unsafe, and pointed to previous failed attempts.  Part of this doubt may have been brought on by certain inventors who’d made astounding claims about the capabilities of their yet-to-be-built airships in terms of speed, altitude, and payload capabilities.     

     One could also surmise that there were those who didn’t want airship inventors to succeed, for if an airship capable of speeds of 100 miles-per-hour or more were to be successfully built, it could then compete in the travel and freight market against other established modes of transportation such as steamships, trains, and stagecoaches.             

     Some inventors who failed in their attempts to fly were sometimes publicly ridiculed in the press as with the case of a Mr. Davidson in the following news snippet that appeared in the Sunbury American And Shamokin Journal, a now defunct Pennsylvania newspaper, on March 23, 1844, under the heading,  “Miscellany”.   

     “The song of “O’ Fly Not Yet” has been arranged as a “bird waltz”, and dedicated to Mr. Davidson, the Flying Machine Man.”    

    Another case involved a New York man named Cook, who in 1897 invented a new type of parachute to be worn when he would take his nearly completed flying machine on a test flight in the near future.  Alas, poor Mr. Cook was found by a policeman entangled in his own invention dangling from a bridge eighty feet over the water – much embarrassed, but none the worse for wear.           

    And then there were the hoaxters and practical jokers who made claims of airships that didn’t exist – and never would.  A case in point was the 1844 story of “Monk Mason’s Flying Machine” which according to a New York newspaper reportedly crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England to the United States in only seventy-five hours.  This was a remarkable claim for the day, but unfortunately, pure fiction. 

     Another early example involved a Pittsburgh man who in September of 1846 advertised that on the 14th he would ascend with his “flying machine” from the top of the Hand Street Bridge.  Thousands turned out to see the event, but at the appointed hour all that flew from the bridge was a white goose the man had released from a sack.     

     The city took the joke in stride, with the Pittsburgh Gazette reporting, “Such a sloping off with mortified looks, it was laughable to see, and the hoax afforded matter for many a good joke during the evening.”      

      Airship hoaxes continued into the 20th century.  Perhaps the most infamous airship hoax occurred in the late autumn of 1909 when a Worcester, Massachusetts, businessman named  Wallace Tillinghast claimed to have invented an airship that could fly over 100 miles per hour at an altitude of 3,000 feet, and travel hundreds of miles without stopping.  Even for 1909 his claims were amazing, for the Wright brothers had flown only seven years earlier and aviation technology was still in its infancy.  What gave this hoax a life of its own was that over the next three months reputable people from all across southern New England reported “seeing” Tillinghast and his invention soar through the air while conducting his nightly flights.   However, in the end, it was revealed that Tillinghast never had an airship of any sort.     

     While the previously mentioned hoaxes were perpetrated for the fun of it, there were other cases where investors were defrauded of their money due to nonexistent airships which the “inventors” never had any intention of building. 

     Incidents involving scientific skepticism, hoaxes, public failures, and fraud, no doubt made it harder for legitimate inventors to gain credibility.

This illustration of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s flying machine appeared in The National Tribune, (Washington, D.C.), on March 1, 1906.  (His name is misspelled as “Dupont”)

    While most inventors worked on ideas involving gas bags to supply the lifting power for their aircraft, there were a few who concentrated on using rotating propellers to gain the necessary lift to overcome gravity.  The idea of helicopters dates to ancient times, and science fiction writers and illustrators of the 19th century envisioned ships equipped with numerous rotating propeller blades instead of sails.       

         By the 1890’s more and more people began to accept the idea that mechanical flight would one day be possible.  Futurists and authors of science fiction predicted a time when trans-Atlantic flights would become routine, and that the personal airship would replace the family horse and buggy, and later, the automobile. 

     One prediction of what the future would hold appeared in The Londonderry Sifter, (A South Londonderry, Vermont, newspaper. ), on August 30, 1888, which stated in part: “A recent writer suggests the we shall, in the next century, have very little use for horses.  He supposes airships to be not only an achievement, but to be as common as wagons are now.  The farmer has then only to hitch a load to his airboat, and lift it clear of trees, and move straight to market.  The effect of navigating the air will, however, be most marked on urban life.  Cities will no longer be needed to any such extent as now.  The airship, avoiding streets, can make a location in the country as desirable for a great store as one in a city.  Will not also a vast amount of land now needed for highways be given over to tillage?  Go ahead, and give us the airship – Globe-Democrat”    

     Predictions aside, aviation technology still hadn’t reached the point where practical aerial navigation could become a reality.   

     In the June, 1893 issue of McClure’s Magazine, famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell had this to say about how man would one day master air travel.  “Of course the airship of the future will be constructed without any balloon attachment.  The discovery of the balloon undoubtedly retarded the solution of the flying problem for over a hundred years.  Even since the Montgolfers taught the world how to rise in the air by means of inflated gasbags, the inventors working at the problem of aerial navigation have been thrown on the wrong track.  Scientific men have been wasting their time trying to steer balloons, a thing which in the nature of the case is impossible to any extent , inasmuch as balloons, being lighter than the resisting air, can never make any headway against it.  the fundamental principle of aerial navigation is that the ship must be heavier that the air.  It is only in recent years that men capable of studying the problem seriously have accepted this as an axiom”     


Arthur De Baussett’s Proposed Airship
The Herald-Advance
Milbank, South Dakota
August 4, 1899

     One of the more ambitious airship projects of the 19th century was the one proposed by Arthur De Bausset in 1899.  His idea was to construct an airship 774 feet long and 144 feet wide that could travel from New York to London in 30 hours.  His airship, when completed, would be the world’s largest, and bigger than any ocean liner of the day. 

     The lift power would come from pumping all of the air out of the huge metal envelope thus creating a vacuum.  Propulsion was to come from 32 propellers powered by turbine engines.

     It was reported that many of New York’s well known businessmen were interested in the project, however, the ship was never built.

     In 1908 inventor J. A. Morrell constructed an airship that was 450 feet long, and at the time, was said to be the world’s largest.  Unfortunately it crashed on May 23, 1908 during its maiden voyage, injuring sixteen people.  

    The flight of the Wright Brothers airplane n 1903 opened the door to manned mechanical flight.   Meanwhile, others continued their work on perfecting the airship.  Technology in both areas grew rapidly leading many to believe that high-speed air travel over great distances was just around the corner.    

     Today we take air travel for granted, but none of it would have been possible had it not been for the hundreds, or perhaps thousands of would-be airship and flying machine inventors who struggled through trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t.  They did so at their own expense, often ridiculed, and at risk of being injured or killed.  In most cases their names have been lost to history. 

     Other sources:

     Alexandria Gazette & Daily Advertiser, (Alexandria, VA.), “Camden, N.J., August 17”, August 25, 1819

     The Native American, (Washington, D.C.), Notice, March 3, 1838.

     The Native American, (Washington, D.C.), “A Step Further In The Sciences”, March 3, 1838

     Iowa Territorial Gazette & Advertiser, “Traveling In The Air”, January 7, 1843

     The New York Herald, “Henson’s New Aerial Steam Carriage”, April 21, 1843

     The Cecil Whig, (Elkton, Md.) “The Steam Mechanic”, April 29, 1843

     The Post Gibson Herald, (no headline), May 22, 1845 

     Yorkville Enquirer, (Yorkville, S.C.), “The Flying Machine Mania”, July 31, 1884

     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.), “Flying Through The Air – A problem Which Has Puzzled The Inventors Of All Times”, September 26, 1885 

     The Morning Call, (San Francisco, CA.), “With An Eagle’s Swiftness”, October 19, 1890

     The Waco Evening News, (Waco, Texas), “A New Gas”, February 24, 1892.

     The Charlotte Democrat, (Charlotte, N.C.), “Hung By His Heels”, July 1, 1897







Two Connecticut Men Invent A Glider – 1909

Two Connecticut Men Invent A Glider – 1909

By Jim Ignasher

     “Darius was clearly of the opinion, that the sky was also man’s dominion.”  A line from the poem, Darius Green and His flying Machine, by John Trobridge, 1869.

     Darius Green was a mythical boy who built his own flying machine, yet he may have been the inspiration for two young inventors from Hartford, Connecticut, to do the same.  Ruben Bassett, and Arvid Carlson, both 18, had been friends since childhood, and as Ruben told a reporter of the Hartford Courant, “We have always been making something or other, but we never finished anything.  We started to make an automobile once, and we built some boats, trying to see how small we could make a boat and still have it carry anyone.”  It therefore seemed logical that after trying their hand at auto and boat building, that an aircraft of some sort would come next.

     They began building their aircraft in early April of 1909 in the basement of Ruben’s home at 1273 Main Street.  The design consisted of two wings, each twenty feet long and four feet wide, framed with ribs of spruce wood and covered with white cambric cloth.  The wings were set about four feet apart, one atop the other, with wires and struts to support them.  A spruce and cambric-cloth rudder was attached to the rear of the craft.  Despite its size, the entire machine reportedly weighed only 40 pounds.   

     The aircraft didn’t have a motor, and was actually what one might refer to as a “hang-glider” today.  There was no place for a pilot to sit.  The aviator would simply hold on from underneath for the duration of the flight.

     The glider had been built in sections which were then brought to the Hartford Electric Light Company where both men were employed.  The management had agreed to allow them use of a work area where the glider could be fully assembled.  By mid-May it was ready for its inaugural flight.  

     In the early morning hours of May 16, the men maneuvered their glider through the sleeping streets of Hartford and up to Prospect Hill.  On their way they encountered a policeman who inquired as to what they were up to, but not being one to stand in the way of aeronautical progress, the officer allowed them to continue on their way.  Once atop the hill they waited for a good breeze, but only the faintest movement of air could be detected.  Undaunted, Ruben decided to test their invention anyway, and after a running start he leaped into the air.  A gentle wind caught the wings, and lifted him to about fifteen feet as he sailed for a distance of approximately seventy feet before landing back on terra firma. Unfortunately one of the wings struck the ground and the glider flipped over thereby breaking one of the spruce ribs and putting a halt to any further experiments.  

     This was reported to be the first glider flight to ever take place in Hartford, but unfortunately the entire event was only witnessed by a handful of people, two of which included milkmen who’s stopped their horse-drawn wagons and delayed their deliveries to watch.   

     On May 23, after making repairs to their glider, the men once again brought it to Prospect Hill for another test-flight.  This time members of the press were present.  Unfortunately that flight ended like the first.  Despite the setback, the inventors vowed to continue their experiments after repairs were made.

     Meanwhile, both Bassett and Carlson were granted a few days off by their employer, the Hartford Electric Light Company, to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Wright brothers. 

     What ultimately became of the glider is unknown, but two years later Ruben Bassett made the news with another invention that he called the “water cycle”, which was in effect a human powered craft designed to be ridden upon the water.  On May 23, 1911, he demonstrated his invention on the Connecticut River  about 150 feet upriver from the dock of the Hartford & New York Transportation Company.  At first the “water-cycle” appeared to be a success, until it suddenly flipped over.  After being towed to shore Bassett made a second attempt with the same results.  It was reported that the cause of the mishaps was due to the center of gravity being offset by the operator’s positioning on the craft.        


     Hartford Courant, “An Aeroplane In Hartford”, May 17, 1909, page 6.

     Hartford Courant, “Young Aeronauts Try A Glider”, May 24, 1909, page 7.      

     Hartford Courant, “Water Cycle Has Lots To Learn”, May 22, 1911, page 10.          

U.S.S. Shenandoah in Rhode Island – 1924

U.S.S. Shenandoah In Rhode Island – 1924


USS Shenandoah moored to the USS Patoka, Narragansett Bay, R.I. – Aug. 8, 1924

     The U.S.S. Shenandoah, (ZR-1), was the first of four giant rigid airships built for the United States Navy to be used for fleet reconnaissance.  The other three airships included the U.S.S. Los Angeles, U.S.S. Akron, and the U.S.S. Macon. 

     When completed in August of 1923, The Shenandoah was 680 feet long, and 78 feet 9 inches wide, and capable of carrying seaplanes.   

     In July of 1924, the U.S.S. Patoka was modified from a fleet oiler to an airship tender with the addition of a 125 foot tall airship-mooring-mast attached to the aft section of the ship.

     On August 8, 1924, the Shenandoah and the Patoka came to Rhode Island to conduct airship-docking-tests in Narragansett Bay.  The Patoka anchored in the bay just off Prudence Island in an area where the effects of the changing tides were the lowest.  The Shenandoah, dubbed the “Queen Of The Air Fleet” by the press, cruised in the vicinity for several hours as thousands lined the shoreline or set out in pleasure boats to watch.

     Finally the Shenandoah glided to the Patoka and three lines were tossed from the nose of the airship to sailors waiting atop the mast.  After the lines were secured, the Shenandoah was slowly drawn nose-first to the mast by a series of winches.   

     The following is an excerpt from the Woonsocket Call (R.I.), newspaper dated August 9, 1924 which describes the docking procedure: “The Shenandoah’s crew, cooperating with the sailors below, nursed the big airship toward its resting place by using the engines in the two forward gondolas intermittently.  At times the Shenandoah’s nose would dip rather sharply.  An even keel would be resumed in a short time as the stern settled.  Water Ballast was discharged on two occasions.

     The giant ship’s nose gradually drew near the morning mast.  A locking devise made it fast.  The Shenandoah, if the protracted calculations of the designers of the rigging do not fail, and the airship withstands the strain, should, when in position at the mast, swing with the ship below.  After the mooring the Patoka steamed with the Shenandoah to a point about midway between the Naval Training Station and the Melville Coaling Station.”       

     The entire operation took about an hour.   

     Once secured to the Patoka, 37 crewmen of the Shenandoah climbed down through the mast to the deck of the Patoka.

     The whole purpose of the test was to see if anchoring an airship at sea was feasible.  The test, the first of its kind ever attempted by the navy, was a success. 

     It was also reported in the Woonsocket Call that the Shenandoah had flown over Rhode Island the previous autumn.   

     The Shenandoah was lost on September 3, 1925 when the ship encountered severe weather while passing over Ohio.  14 of the 43 crewmen aboard were killed.


     Woonsocket Call, “Shenandoah Test At Newport Proves Favorable So Far”, August 9, 1924, page 2


New Airplanes For The U.S. Navy – 1916

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Evening Capital & Maryland Gazette, (Annapolis, Maryland), on January 11, 1916.


     Sky Fleet Will Be More Than Doubled In Next Two Months.

     The United States Navy will receive from Massachusetts in the next two months more aeroplanes than it has in service, nine from the Burgess Company in Marblehead, and six from the Sturtevant Company Works in Hyde park. 

     Three will be big Burgess battle aeroplanes, the fastest and largest contracted for by the Unites States.  These three planes will travel eighty miles an hour and carry two men with seven hours’ fuel supply and an offensive equipment of one machine gun and 150 pounds of ammunition.

     The gross weight of each machine is 3,300 pounds, and it will carry a load of 1,200 pounds.  Six others are Burgess tractor planes, with 100 horse-power motors.  These machines are better climbers that the heavier type and are the standard navy type.  The Burgess Company has just sent forty-eight planes to the British Admiralty.  These machines are turned out at the rate of three a week, which has given the company the opportunity to expand its plant for American business.      

Dr. De Bossuet’s Airship – 1889

Dr. Bossuet’s Airship – 1889

     The following article appeared in The Ohio Democrat, (of Logan, Ohio), November 23, 1889.  It relates to a “Dr. De Bossuet” of Boston who planned to build a steel airship, and was trying to raise $250,000 to build it.  This was a remarkable sum of money for 1889.  No further details about this project or Dr. De Bossuet are known.


A Boston Machine Will Solve The Problem, It Is Claimed

     News comes from Boston that, under the auspices of the Aerial Exhibition Association , a steel air-ship is about to be constructed upon the vacuum principle.  The ship is to be constructed entirely of thin plates of the greatest possible tensile  strength, and thoroughly braced inside by a “new development in science mechanics” to resists the pressure of the atmosphere when a partial vacuum is obtained.  The promoters of the enterprise expect their machine to lift two hundred passengers and fifty tons of mail or other matter, to say nothing of all the machinery and apparatus with electrical power sufficient to give a speed to the ship of at least seventy miles an hour.  During the earlier trips no intermediate or steerage passengers will be taken. The cost is estimated at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and a National subscription is to be opened for the purpose of securing the necessary funds.  Dr. De Bossuet, the inventor, is said to claim that his plans have the approval of “the most eminent scientific and engineering experts in the country.”  There is no doubt that aerial navigation will sooner or later become an accomplished fact, but it is very much open to question whether either the automobile balloon or the vacuum shell will be the successful airship of the future, but rather, so far as we can judge at present, a self-sustaining machine, or a motor driven by electricity, derived from the surface of the earth.  It seems as if inventors never would be convinced of the futility of the dirigible balloon, of which the unfortunate termination of the Campbell venture has just afforded another example.  They are misled by the ease with which the machine can be handled in a dead calm, and will not realize that in a breeze it becomes comparatively powerless – N.Y. Mail and Express   

First Successful Helicopter In America – 1909

First Successful Helicopter In America – 1909    

     The first successful helicopter to be flown in America was invented by New Englander, J. Newton Williams of Derby, Connecticut, and Emile Berliner of Washington, D.C.   The following newspaper article appeared in the Los Angeles Herald on July 1, 1909, page 5.


Heavier-Than-Air Machine Lifts Itself

     Experiments Made In Suburb Of Washington City Prove Air Craft Able To Ascend With Operator 

     Washington, June 30. –  For the first time in America a helicopter, a heavier than air type of flying machine, which depends on aerial screws for its lifting power , has successfully lifted itself with an operator.  A machine built by J. Newton Williams of Derby, Conn., and Emile Berliner of this city, lifted Mr. Williams from the ground on three occasions.  

     The experiment was made a day or two ago at Mr. Berliner’s laboratory near Brentwood, a suburb of this city.  The only other machine that is known to have made a similar performance is that of M. Cornu, a Frenchman.

     Scientists have always had great respect for the helicopter type of flying machine.  The Williams helicopter, with the operator, weighs about 600 pounds and has a lifting surface of only eighty square feet.

     The surface consists of two pairs of propellers revolving horizontally in opposite directions at the end of a vertical shaft. 

     The propellers are eight feet eight inches in diameter.  In the successful experiments the machine was so confined that it could not rise more than ten inches, but it rose to that height.

     In previous experiments the Williams machine had risen without an operator and it moved rapidly along a track in tests.  The forward motion is obtained by the operator shifting his position forward. 

     The revolving motors of thirty-six horse power each are used, but it is intended to use only one motor.

     It is also expected to reduce weight of the complete machine without the operator to 325 pounds.  It now weighs 450 pounds.

     Mr. Berliner has left for Europe, but the work of preparing the new motor will proceed.


First U.S. Navy Airship – 1915

     The following newspaper article appeared in the New York Tribune on April 21, 1915, page 5.



     Lowest is $29,876 and Highest $200,000 for Construction of Dirigibles.

     Washington, April 20. – Four firms to-day competed in the bidding for the construction of the first dirigible airships for the United States navy.  The bids disclosed a wide divergence.  The lowest was $29,876, or $58,552 for two dirigibles, while the highest was $200,000 for a single aircraft.

     The dirigible will be neither impressive or large.  Their principal function will be to furnish training for pilots and to serve as a basis for investigation of the workability of dirigibles in maneuvers.  The Secretary of the Navy’s memorandum issued today said:

     “The Office of Aeronautics considers that the dirigible is to be the kingfisher of the submarine.  The aeroplane, rapidly scouting the seas off our harbors and around our fleet, discovers the enemy’s submarines lying in wait for innocent merchant ships, or attempting to creep up on our fighting ships.”    

     “The dirigible from the shore station or from the dirigible ships of the fleet, thus warned by the aeroplane scouts, proceed to the attack of the submarines, dropping on them heavy bombs fitted with fuses to explode on hitting or after sinking to a certain depth”

     The general specifications required that the dirigibles should be of the non-rigid type, 175 feet long, 50 feet high, and 36 feet wide, with a useful load of about 2,000 pounds.  It is specified that they have a speed of twenty-five miles an hour, and be capable of rising 3,000 feet without disposing of ballast.

     The following bids were received: Stanley Yale Beach, New York – One machine, $29, 876; two machines, $58,552.  American Dirigible Balloon Syndicate, Inc., New York – One machine, $41,000; one machine (larger), $45,000.  The Connecticut Aircraft Company, New Haven – One machine, $45,636.25; two machines, $82,215.12.  The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Akron, Ohio, – One machine, $200,000.

     The last bid is subject to a reduction which will make the total cost to the government equal to the cost of the machine to the Goodyear Tore and Rubber Company plus 50 per cent.        


    History has shown that the contact was awarded to the Connecticut Aircraft Company.  The first dirigible ordered was designed to carry eight men, four of whom would serve as crew, and the other four as student observers.  The ship would be 175 feet long, 55 feet high, and would have a gas capacity of 110,00 cubic feet.  It could achieve a speed of 25 mph and operate for two hours in the air – longer if fewer men were aboard. 

     Source: New York Tribune, “Airship For Navy Ordered As Trail- Dirigible to Cost $46,000 And Will Be Used To Train Men”, May 15, 1915

Professor Hogan And His Lost Airship – 1889

Professor Hogan And His Lost Airship

July 18, 1889      

Updated May 5, 2017

Updated October 21, 2018

Professor Hogan and his airship - 1889

Professor Hogan and his airship – 1889

     Some aeronautical mysteries actually pre-date the airplane.  A case in point involves the disappearance of Professor Edward D. Hogan and his airship, America, in 1889.  

     The America was an 18,000 cubic-foot gas-balloon shaped like a breakfast sausage with a gondola slung underneath.  What made the airship different from traditional balloons was a motor driven eight-foot-long propeller to give the ship steering capabilities allowing it to navigate the sky at will.   

     On the morning of July 18, 1889, Professor Hogan climbed aboard his airship in Brooklyn, New York, and after giving a prearranged signal, the mooring lines were released.  To everyone’s surprise, the balloon shot up one-thousand feet in less than a minute where the wind began to push it in the opposite direction that the professor had intended.  Hogan started the engine hoping to gain control, but as he did, the propeller suddenly broke free and fell to earth, leaving the airship at the mercy of the wind. 

     The America quickly drifted eastward out over Long Island Sound and out of sight.  Being blown out to sea was an aeronaut’s worst nightmare for it almost always meant certain death for airships didn’t carry lifeboats or provisions.  Why the professor didn’t release some of the gas and make an emergency landing is open to speculation.  Perhaps he was unable to do so. 

    One report which appeared in The Evening Bulletin, (Maysville, Kentucky), on July 19, 1889, indicates a possible explanation.  According to the airship’s inventor, the craft was not built according to his specifications in that the release valve to allow gas to escape from the balloon was placed at the bottom of the passenger car, and not well above the pilot’s head.  The article sated in part, “All experienced aeronauts agree that the neck of the balloon should be at least fifteen feet above the car so that there would be abundant opportunity for the escape of gas without imperiling the life of the man manipulating the air ship.”  Therefore it was theorized that if Hogan had tried to vent gas from the balloon that he may have been overcome and rendered unconscious.  

     At about 5:30 that evening, the America was sighted by a schooner ten miles off Sandy Hook, Long Island.  The crew later reported that the balloon was dragging a rope beneath it through the water.  The schooner gave chase, but when it began to get close, the rope suddenly released and the craft abruptly ascended into the air and out distanced the boat.  

     Messages were relayed up and down the northeast coast to be on watch for the disabled airship.  One report sent from Providence, Rhode Island, stated that a balloon believed to the America had passed over the city about 7 p.m., but some in New York discounted this claim. 

     The following day the captain of the pilot boat Caprice reported seeing a balloon dragging its basket along the surface of the ocean at a point about 130 miles east of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and gave the coordinates as 39.40 Latitude, 71.40 Longitude.  The captain said his boat gave chase, but lost sight of the craft near sunset when the balloon collapsed.  This report was also viewed with skepticism as the winds had reportedly been blowing in a northeast direction when Hogan was last seen, which should have carried him towards New England.        

     In any case, Professor Hogan and the America were never seen again. 

     A footnote to this tragedy involves Professor Hogan’s brother, George, of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  On August 29, 1891, George Hogan was performing on a trapeze suspended beneath a balloon, 1,000 feet in the air over a fairground, when lost his grip and fell to his death.  He was survived by a wife and child.   


New York Times, “Plunged Into The Ocean” July 19, 1889

New York Times, “Aeronaut Hogan’s Fate”, July 20, 1889

(Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, “Aerial Navigation”, July 20, 1889, pg. 4

The Evening Bulletin, (Maysville, KY.) “Hogan’s Lost Airship”, July 19, 1889 

The Evening Bulletin, (Maysville, Kentucky), “George Hogan Loses Hold On A Trapeze Bar And Is dashed To death”, August 31, 1891


Alexander V. Wilson’s New Aeroplane – 1908

   Alexander V. Wilson’s New Aeroplane- 1908

    On October 17, 1908, it was reported in the The Evening Times that a man named Alexander V. Wilson of Bangor, Maine, had built an “aeroplane” that didn’t need a motor which he had brought to New York City for a demonstration.  He was issued a patent for his invention on Sept. 1, 1908.

     The article stated in part, “So confident is he (Wilson) of success that he is prepared to put in a bid to the government for a naval aeroplane as soon as the official specifications are issued.”   

     It went on to state Wilson had built, “several machines within the last dozen years. He has also flown with them.”  Wilson reportedly conducted his flying experiments on frozen Eagle Lake near Bar Harbor in the winter, and along Maine’s coastline in the summer.

     “Of course,” said Mr. Wilson, “I can only rise in the air and remain there without a motor provided there is sufficient wind.  Therefore it is best to have a small motor to rise when the atmosphere is still, but with any kind of wind the motor may be shut off  and I can fly as easily without it against the wind as with it, and control my machine perfectly”  This would seem to indicate that Wilson’s aircraft did have a motor, but that it could be shut off during flight and the plane could remain airborne.   

     Wilson’s invention was 36 feet long, (Wingspan not stated.) with four flexible wings, two in front, and two aft.   The pilot would bend the wings as need for steering and landing, and controlled their movement with a moving fulcrum.   

Wilson was scheduled to demonstrate his invention at Morris Park race track on November 4th.

 Source: The (Pawtucket, R.I.) Evening Times, “This Airship Does Not Need A Motor”, October 17, 1908, Pg. 11.


The Kopacka – Warzycki Airship – 1910

The Kopacka – Warzycki Airship – 1910

Hartford, Connecticut


     In November of 1910, Joseph J. Kopacka, and August Warzycki , both of Hartford, Connecticut, announced that they’d secured two government patents for an airship of their own invention.  Their airship would include a triple compartment, triangular shaped air bag, with the center compartment being filled with buoyant gas, and the other two with hot air.  The airbag would include two horizontal wings running the length of the bag, one on either side. The wings would be operated by a series of wires and levers connected to a passenger car suspended beneath the balloon.  The airship would be powered by a high-powered engine of French design that would spin two large propellers.

     The men also announced that they would form the Aerial Construction Company, which would be incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts, with a capital investment of $50,000.  The company would be located on Asylum Street in Hartford.  At this time no airship had been built, but the inventors were working with John Twardoz, a former professor at the Vienna Technical School, who was calculating how large the balloon would have to be to achieve the required lifting power.  Construction and testing of the airship would take place in the Poquonock section of the town of Windsor, Connecticut. 

     As a point of fact, the Aerial Construction Company was established in September, 1911, at 212 Asylum Street in Hartford.  (For more information see “Aerial Construction Company of Hartford” under “Airships & Flying Machines” on this website.)

     Source: The Hartford Courant, “Hartford Men Have Invented Airship”, November 19, 1910.    


First Airplane Built In Norwich, CT. – 1910

     The following newspaper article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin on July 19, 1910.



Triplanes Constructed by Messrs Stebbins and Gaynet Will Be Tried Out In October – Practically Completed Now – Will Lift, It Is Estimated, 1,200 Pounds having 25-30 Horse Power Motor – Built at Sachem Park In The Past Three Months.  


     The people of this city and the public in general who go to Sachem Park today will have an opportunity to see an aeroplane, the first practical flying machine to be brought to completion in Norwich. 

     In a little shed just north of St. Mary’s Cemetery this bird of the air stands with its snow wings poised ready for flight at the word of its creators.

     Back in 1908, William H. Stebbins and Louis Geynet began to have visions of flying through the air.  They began to study the science of aeronautics, they worked out theories , and finally they evolved a tiny model aeroplane, the forerunner of the full-grown machine they have today at their workshop at the park.

     Built In Three Months

     These young men, who are well known in Norwich and are both of a mechanical bent and inventive turn of mind, attended the big airship shows in Boston and New York, inspected to the minutest details their workings, watched the aviators at their flights, and finally in February of this year, they set up a workshop where they might build a machine of their own.  In spite of the difficulty and expense of procuring the materials, and other obstacles that came up  in their way in April, Messrs Geynet and Stebbins were ready to start.  Working themselves at every opportunity and employing several assistants during the large part of the succeeding three months , the men who are to essay that most difficult art, aviation, now have every rib in place, every cable taut, and as far as the machine itself is concerned are ready for flight today. 

To Have Tent Made

     It is a rough country, however, about Sachem Park, for airship flights, and the chances of mishap in case of an enforced descent are too numerous to be risked.  So Messrs Stebbins and Geynet are to have a special aeroplane tent made, and with this portable house they will be able to move to any suitable aviation grounds they may decide upon.  The tent will not be received before a month and as some preliminary ground trials are necessary to enable the aviators to learn how to control and manage their craft, Messrs Stebbins and Geynet state they do not expect to attempt a flight before October 1.

Triplane Type

Click on image to enlarge.


     In building their aeroplane, the Norwich men made a departure from the usual design, making their machine a triplane, instead of the biplane or monoplane type, that is to say it has three planes, one above the other, for the supporting surface in the air instead of the customary two or one.  The aeroplane’s spread, or its total width, is 24 feet.  The planes lap over each other , the topmost being 24 feet long by 7 feet wide, the middle 20 feet by 6 feet, and the undermost 16 by 5.  The planes are ribbed, with two-piece, laminated ribs of Oregon spruce, covered with special aeroplane fine-woven varnished linen fabric, air and moisture proof.  The planes are somwwhat curved upward to better catch the air.  Aluminum joints are used wherever possible to secure additional lightness and the machine is strongly braced and trussed with special galvanized twisted aeroplane cable, which has a breaking strength of 500 pounds to the inch.

25-30 Horsepower Motor

     The motive power will be furnished by a 25-30 horsepower Cameron aviation motor, weighing 200 pounds, seated upon a maple frame.  The seat for the operator is located just in front of the engine.  The steering apparatus is known as the auto-control, and is not far different from the steering gear of the automobile.  The balancing and elevating device in the front is worked by a steering wheel, while the tail ruder is controlled by a foot, the steering planes being so adjusted as to keep the craft stable and on an even keel.

     Three sizes of propellers will be owned by Messrs Geynet and Stebbins: six, seven, and 7 1/2 feet.  The motor turns up about 200 pounds thrust and 1,200 revolutions per minute, which will send the craft along at the speed of an express train.

Lifting Power 1,200 Pounds

     The three planes provide a lifting area of 400 square feet, which should lift about 1,200 pounds, the designers figure from what other planes have done.  The whole machine, without the operator, weighs 650 pounds.  The balance of lifting power, 550 pounds, therefore should provide for the operator, a passenger, gasoline, and other supplies, and still the craft should be within carrying capacity.

     The aeroplane is of a height that will permit it to be rolled out of the one-story workshop, built expressly for the machine with swinging doors, and fully equipped with electric motor, machinery and tools.  Three pneumatic tired wheels support the machine.  There is also a skid with springs on the underside which will break the force of the landing in a descent, and in case of a wheel being broken, protect the plane.

Hartford Aviator Commends Their Work        

     There have been many visitors at the aviation workshop of Messrs Stebbins and Geynet, and all who have seen the product of their time, brains and money, praise it highly, especially cheering to the designers being the encouragement given them by a Hartford aviator who recently saw their machine.  He commended their energy and enterprise and saw no reason why they should not be successful in the air.  Their plans have been long considered and carefully laid, and Stebbins and Geynet, aviators, are deserving of success.


     The following newspaper article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin on August 30, 1910.


     Builders of Triplane Will Make Another Try With Present Engine After New Tires Are Received.

     Four big aeroplane propellers designed by Stebbins and Geynet of this city, and built under their supervision at their  shop at Sachem Park, are displayed in Preston Bros. window.  The heavy wooden blades that will drive through the air the first aeroplane built in Norwich and the first triplane in America, attract much attention from passersby.  All of the propellers are laminated, the first being walnut and mahogany of the Wright type, with a 52 inch pitch.  The second is of mahogany and ash, of the Curtis type, with a 6 foot pitch.  The other two are mahogany and walnut of the Chauviere (Paris) type, and of 4 feet pitch.  They are true screw propellers. 

     Stebbins and Geynet have not yet used their latest and largest propeller and they plan to give it a trail shortly with their present engine.  If the new propeller gives them sufficient thrust, they believe that the purchase of a new motor may not be necessary.

     At the present time they are waiting for pneumatic tired wheels, these parts of the machine having been damaged in their recent ground trial at Sachem Park.  The wheels are expected here from Hartford at any time.  The big aeroplane tent has been completed for some time so that Stebbins and Geynet will be all ready for their exhibition next week.


     The following newspaper article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin on September 9, 1910.


Stebbins and Geynet Have Sold Power Plant Of Their Aeroplane

And Will Order A New One 

     Stebbins and Geynet have sold this week the 30 horsepower Cameron engine which they had on exhibition with their aeroplane at the fair grounds.  They shipped it to the purchaser in Pennsylvania on Thursday evening.  This morning about 12:30 o’clock they passed through Franklin Square with their aeroplane on the way from the fair grounds to Sachem Park, where they built and keep the machine.  This morning they expect to leave to attend the aviation meeting at Boston, where they will decide on a new motor, to be of 50 horsepower.  They do not expect to have the aeroplane ready for flight until late in the fall or early spring largely due to the time, thirty to sixty days, required for the shipment of first class motors.

     There was a gratifying interest shown in their machine at the fair and their exhibition was a success.






Charles H. Lamson’s Aerial Experiments – 1896-97

Charles H. Lamson’s Aerial Experiments – 1896-97

     Charles H. Lamson, (1847-1930), of Portland, Maine, was a successful jeweler, watchmaker, bicycle dealer, and kite inventor.  His kites were not toys, but large-scale, custom-built, flying apparatus that were capable of lifting a man into the air.  He conducted experiments with his kites in the Portland area in the late 1890s, and achieved remarkable results.   Other experiments with Mr. Lamson’s kites were conducted at the Blue Hills Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts.  

Charles H. Lamson – 1896

     The following two newspaper articles relate to Mr. Lamson’s research. 


     This article appeared in The Sun, (New York, N.Y.), on August 21, 1896.  



Leamson’s Kite Carried Up A Dummy Man 600 Feet.


The Rope Broke and Then the Airship Floated Off Gracefully and Came Down Without Jar or Injury to the Make-believe Passenger – Plan of Continuations


     Portland, Me., Aug. 20 – Charles H. Lamson performed a feat here to-day practically demonstrating that a large airship or kite capable of carrying a man can be floated successfully and steadily.  He raised his ship with a dummy man on it 600 feet.  The retaining rope broke when the ship was at that altitude.     

Lamson Kite-Airship – 1896

Had it not been for this break Mr. Lamson would have sent up a man to navigate his ship.  As it was, W. A. Eddy of Bayonne, N. J., an authority on aerial experiments, declared that Lamson’s achievement was the greatest step toward solving the problem of aerial navigation of the age.  Two records, at all events, Lamson made.  He flew the largest kite or airship ever floated.  He carried by means of this kite the heaviest weight to the greatest altitude on record.

     Mr. Lamson has been an experimenter in kite flying and construction for a long time.  He has been in constant correspondence with Lilienthal and other noted authorities for many years.  The kite which made the flight is an invention of Mr. Lamson and is called “The Lamson Airship.”   

     The kite, when in the air, resembles two large oblong boxes parallel to each other and attached to each other in the middle.  It took fifteen men to carry the kite or ship into the field from which it was to be sent up.  The retaining cord was a large braided window cord tested to a pull of 500 pounds.  This was made fast to a huge reel and four men attended to it.  About 400 feet of the rope was run out along the ground, and at a signal from Mr. Lamson the ship was released.  It quivered a moment and then steadily rose skyward. 

     Seated on the car of the ship was a dummy weighted to 150 pounds.  The ship carried it without any perceptible jar.  It rose to an altitude of 600 feet, and was rising steadily when with a sudden gust of wind, snap went the rope, showing that tremendous pressure was brought upon it by the soaring of the ship.  The ship floated out a half mile and descended as easily and gracefully as it went up.  Had a man been in the car he would not have been harmed in the slightest.    

Charles H. Lamson’s
Kite – Airship

     Mr. Lamson in the construction of this ship has followed some of Mr. Hargrave’s ideas.  The point of similarity between the kite and Hargrave’s is in boxing the ends and making it double, that is, with two boxes or “cells,” as Hargrave calls them, with a space between.  This style of kite has great stability when in the air, and when floating freely always settles gently, like a parachute.

     Mr. Lamson built his airship after Hargrave’s general plan, but added improvements of his own to make it more manageable in the enlarged form.  In the first place, the rear cells were hinged on pivots near the center, so that their angle of inclination in reference to the wind and to one another can be changed at will.

     The passenger, by manipulating a lever, can keep the airship on an even keel, make it rise or fall, and direct its course in coming down.  Lateral steering can be accomplished by changing the weight to the other side of the center, the aerial vessel then turning toward the side where the weight is greatest.

     Each pair of wings is like the wings of a bird.  They are also ribbed fore and aft, and covered so that the stream of air can have its full lifting effect following the curve from front to rear, and preventing all shaking or flapping of the fabric. 

     Mr. Lamson’s plan of jointing the aeroplanes or aerocurves makes it possible to attach the flying cord on a bowsprit.  This makes it much easier to float the great kite than by Hargrave’s plan.  Mr. Clayton of Blue Hill Observatory estimated that the kite would pull at least 800 pounds if it were hung as Hargrave advises, but by Mr. Lamson’s arrangement the strain on the cord is greatly reduced, so that a few men can handle it in ordinary winds.

     A heavy windlass loaded with sand bags held the 2,000 feet of cord to-day.  All that was necessary to launch the airship was to raise its forward end a little and take a short run, when it sailed up into the air like a balloon.

     The ship presented a novel and beautiful appearance as it soared gracefully above the heads of 1,500 people, who stood gazing with open mouths at this strange monster of the air.  Nobody, to see the kite on the ground, would ever imagine that it would fly in mid-air, but Lamson demonstrated the fact that it would.  Mr. Eddy and other authorities said that to-day’s performance exceeded anything that Lilienthal or any former leader in this work has done.     

     Mr. Lamson was disappointed at the collapse of the rope, but was pleased at the success of the experiment.  He said:

     “The performance of my airship to-day satisfies me beyond all question that the ship in its present form will always ascend in a fair breeze and will remain flying any length of time under favorable atmospheric conditions; that a kite of this size will sustain and carry a man all night, and that the latter can regulate the direction of the kite in the air and descend.  I do not mean he can propel the kite.  This remains to be discovered, but I mean that, taking advantage of the air currents, he can guide the ship to a very large extent.  By Means of the guiding lever he can regulate the course up or down, and by shifting his weight can curve to the right or left.”


     This next article appeared one year later in the Waterbury Democrat, (Waterbury, CT.), on August 11, 1897.



A Maine Inventor Soars Upward On An Airship


Wind is the Motive Power – He remained Poised in Air at Will and Might Ascend to Any Height He Pleased – He cannot However, Descend at Will.

     Charles H. Lamson of Portland, Me., has demonstrated to the world that he has invented a kite-airship which is capable of raising a man from the ground to almost any height and sustaining him in the air.  the weak point in his invention is that while he can raise himself with his kite at will, he cannot lower himself.  But this defect he hopes soon to remedy.

     The demonstration of his kite’s powers was made in the presence of a number of well-known scientists who have taken much interest in the study of aerial navigation, and they all agree that the results Mr. Lamson has attained are of great interest and value.  They look upon Mr. Lamson’s achievement as a distinct step forward towards the accomplishment of practical aerial navigation.

     Exactly what this last laborer in the field of aeronautics has done is to prove that it is possible for a man to ascend in the air on a kite, taking his seat while the kite remains stationary on the ground and then rising easily and safely with it on its upward flight.  Men have been sustained on kites before, but in all previous cases the kite has first been sent up into the air and the rider afterwards hauled up to it by means of pulleys and ropes. 

     Mr. Lamson’s kite sails away with its passenger, and if he could make come down when he wanted to, aerial flight would be, at least, a partial success. 

     The kite weighs about 100 pounds, and its rider sits in a boat-shaped car, which is suspended from between the two sets of box kites.  Attached to the bottom of this car are two bicycle wheels, by means of which the kite can be moved along the ground without danger of breaking the structure.  The axils are so placed that when the supporting surfaces are folded down the kite may be moved about by one man.   

     Mr. Lamson has made two ascensions, rising each time to about fifty feet from the ground and remaining poised in the air for fully half an hour each time.  He intends to add to his kite a feature which will make it possible for the rider in the car to raise and lower it at will so that it will either ascend or descend at his pleasure.  He will do this by passing a cord around the bowsprit of the machine and attaching one end of it to the forward sail, while the other end passes through the pulley in the guiding line and back into the rider’s hands.  Mr. Lamson refuses to say just what he thinks may be developed from this airship-kite of his, but he believes it will be possible for a man to ascend to almost any height in the air and remain there as long as he wishes and then descend to the ground in safety by pulling the cord, which will be attached to the forward sail.

     Last year Congress appropriated a certain sum of money to be expended in experiments with kites by the Blue Hill (Mass.) Meteorological Station and at this point , the kites furnished by Mr. Lamson are being used.  They are sent up into the clouds a thousand feet or more above the earth, and have instruments attached to them for recording temperature and the direction of air currents and other interesting data.              

Leopold Goldberger’s Airship – 1904

Leopold Goldberger’s Airship – 1904

     The following newspaper article appeared in The St. Louis Republic, (St. Louis, Mo.), on January 18, 1904. 


     Republic Special

     Boston, Mass., Jan. 17 – In a 30-foot cigar-shaped airship, the model of which he has just completed, Leopold Goldberger, a 22-year-old Hungarian, who came to Boston three months ago, says he is going to fly from this city to St. Louis and compete for the $100,000 airship prize.

     Goldberger’s ship will be of oiled silk in a meshwork of oiled cord, and will be filled with gas through a tube.  This is to be closed to prevent the escape of the gas, which can be utilized over and over again by the engine, in the center beneath the cabin.  There will be a wheel in the stern like the propeller of a steamer and one on each side like paddle wheels.  Each side wheel is to have half a dozen steel blades, two of which are at right angles, the others at 45-degree angles.

     The engine for the airship, Goldberger says, is being built for him in Budapest, and he expects that this machine will fly sixty-five miles an hour.  

Charles M. Davis’s Flying Machine – 1906

Charles M. Davis’s Flying Machine – 1906

     The following newspaper article appeared in the Daily Capitol Journal, (Salem, Oregon), on February 6, 1906.  Brighton is a neighborhood of Boston. 


     Boston, Feb. 6 – Scientists and inventors in this city are highly interested in the announcement just made that Charles M. Davis of Brighton, has invented a flying machine which is constructed on entirely new and original principles and is said to promise remarkable results.  The inventor says that his machine is neither a freak nor a fake and will surely do what he expects it to do.  It has neither a gas tank nor a balloon attachment and not even wings, yet, it is said, that the model just completed ascended to any height without danger of a sudden drop.  The inventor has designed the machine primarily for use on a battleship.  The machine will move equally well in the air and in the water and can be easily carried like a life boat.  Three aluminum propellers furnish the motive power in either water or air.  Mr. Davis is trying to get some eastern capitalists interested in his invention and will soon start to build a model on a larger scale.     


The Lake Airships – 1908-09

The Lake Airships – 1908 – 09


     Christopher John Lake, (1847 – 1938), was an inventor, and father of Simon Lake, (1866 – 1945), the man who invented the Lake Submarine Boat. 

     On June 8, 1908, a short article appeared in The Hartford Courant, (Hartford, Ct.), announcing that Simon Lake, “inventor of the Lake submarine boat”, had patented a design for a new type of airship.    

     In the article Simon Lake was quoted as saying, “The new airship will be a combination of the dirigible balloon, the aeroplane, and the helicoppre.  I have been too busy with other work to devote the time that is necessary for building the new airship, and I will give a reward to the man who will build it and relieve me of the task.  I cannot go into the details of the invention at this time, but am satisfied it is one that has solved the problem of aerial navigation.”   

     It’s unknown if Simon’s airship was constructed, but the following article indicates that construction was begun in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on another airship designed by Simon’s father, Christopher Lake. 

     The following article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin, (Norwich, CT.), on September 28, 1909.



Inventor Lake Hopes To Test It During October


     Christopher J. Lake, the flying machine inventor, is completing the construction of his airship at Nutmeg Park, Bridgeport.  His force of mechanics are working daily, getting the invention ready for its first trials next month.  Just when the machine will be completed cannot be stated definitely, but Mr. Lake reiterated his statement that he expected to make his first flight during October.  

     He feels confident of having the machine ready for a trail flight before November 1, and within four weeks he ought to be able to give the first test of the machine.  He is working along novel lines and all of his theories have been demonstrated so that there should be no great question about the ability of the machine to fly. 

     There is a great deal of interest in this “Made in Bridgeport” flying machine which will be a combination of biplane and dirigible balloon.  When the airship is finished and private demonstrations made, Mr. Lake may give the public a chance to see it fly.  He is working now to demonstrate to his own satisfaction that his ideas of aerial navigation are correct.

     If he is successful, he will probably enter into the manufacture of the machines for sale the same as automobiles.  He says that no expert knowledge is required to operate an airship and that they can be manufactured for sale at reasonable cost.  Mr. Lake says that the time is not far distant when airships will be sold for pleasure purposes the same as automobiles, but perhaps not so numerously.  He is spending considerable money in the development of his machine and before the snow flies he may have other aviators at Nutmeg Park, the name of which would be changed to Lake Aerodrome.


     Mr. Lake’s airship project was also mentioned in a publication called, Aeronautics – The American Magazine of Aerial Locomotion.  The brief article stated, “Charles J. Lake, of Bridgeport, father of Capt. Simon Lake, inventor of the Lake submarine boat, is at work on an apparatus of his own design and has secured an option from Stephen C. Osborne, owner of Hippodrome Park, where the new flying machine is to be built and tested.  Several men are now at work there to carry out the ideas of Mr. Lake, but their work is enshrouded in complete mystery, no one being privileged to give out any information in regard to it.


     On September 16, 1909, it was reported in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer that an unidentified man had tried to break into the building where Mr. Lake’s airship was being constructed, but was driven off by a night watchman hired to guard the premises.   



     Hartford Courant, “Lake Invents An Airship”, June 8, 1908

     Norwich Bulletin, “Bridgeport Airship”, September 28, 1909

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “May Shoot Next Time”, September 16, 1909

     Aeronautics – The American Magazine Of Aerial Locomotion, “From Submarine To Airship”, September, 1909, page 111.









Boston’s Aeronaut Convention – 1896

Boston’s Aeronaut Convention – 1896

          The following article appeared in The Topeka State Journal, (Topeka, Kansas), on July 18, 1896.


Aeronauts Will Hold A Unique Convention At Boston


Flying Machine Contests


Men of science rom all parts of the world will show the possibilities of aerial navigation.  


     Folks afflicted with the balloon fever will have a chance to indulge the disease to the uppermost limit before long.  An aeronautical convention, the very first of its kind, is to be held in Boston in the early part of September, and flying sharps from all parts of the world will attend to show their fellows what wonderful things they have accomplished in the matter of touring among the clouds.  

     It is almost unnecessary to state that this convention may be the means of causing a revolution in the matter of quick transit.  The men who will attend it are not reckless, untutored spirits; on the other hand they are intelligent scientists who believe that aerial navigation is not only possible but that within a few years it will be a popular reality, indulged in by great financial corporations and by private individuals.  Popular interest in aeronautics has been aroused all over the world by the balloon expedition to the North Pole by Explorer Andree.  recent experiments by meteorological experts in kite flying have also excited the public mind in the matter, and it is fair to presume that when the famous aeronauts convene at Boston their doings will be heralded to all the ends of the earth.

     The convention has been arranged by the Aeronautical Society of Boston.  This is composed of only twenty men, but each one of the twenty is a man skilled in the work of the organization.  The society was only formed in May of 1895.  Professor William H. Pickering, the astronomer of Harvard College, is the president.  He has taken up the study of aeronautics for the purpose of furthering the science of astronomy, believing that the scope of the latter will be enlarged to a limitless degree when astronomers are able to sail above the clouds.  

A Famous Gathering    

     The best known of the scientists who will attend the convention are Herr Otto Lilienthal, of Berlin; Willis L. Moore, Chief of the United States Weather Bureau; A. S. Potter, also of the Weather Bureau’s staff; William A. Eddy, whose many experiments in kite flying have made him famous; J. Woodbridge Davis, inventor of the life-saving kite; Octave Chanute, who has been a recognized authority on flying machines for more than fifty years; Professor S. P. Langley, director of the Smithsonian Institution; Gilbert T. Woglom, of New York; Alexander Graham Bell, of telephone fame, who within the past year or two has given much time to the study of aerial navigation, and possible Laurence Hargrave, of New South Wales.

     Much of the work for the convention arrangements have fallen upon Albert A. ????? will probably take place at Milton, a suburb of Boston.  The reason of the selection of Milton is that there is a fair sized sheet of water near at hand.  All aeronauts have a weakness for making ascents in the vicinity of water.  Experience has taught them that it is pleasanter to fall a few hundred feet into deep water than to smash into the earth.  It is quite probable that if no water were near at hand many of the designers would refuse to show off their flying machines at the competition.

The Competition

     The various contests are classified as follows:

     Prize A – For the kite showing the maximum of lift to the minimum of drift in a breeze having a velocity of more than fifteen miles per hour.

     Prize B – For the kite showing the maximum of lift to the minimum of drift in a breeze having a velocity of less than fifteen miles per hour.

     Prize C – For the kite keeping its equilibrium through the greatest extremes of wind velocity.

     Prize D – For the soaring machine of free flight which, after gaining velocity, shall make the best course.  The excellence of the course to be judged by the maximum length and the minimum of undulation.  Energy may be given to the machine by carrying it to a height. 

     Prize E – For the best self-propelled machine.    

One of Professor Langley’s Flying Machines

     The great interest will center in the flying machines, and according to experts this feature of the program will be a duel between the designs of Professor Langley, of Washington, and Herr Lilienthal, of Berlin.  Professor Langley’s machine is a contradiction of the principles recognized by all of the other designers of flying machines.  In other words, the aim of the average designer is to produce a machine lighter than the air.  Professor Langley believes that the weight of the machine has nothing to do with its flying capacity.  He claims that the great essential is the driving force.  If enough power can be introduced, he argues that a machine of any weight can be driven through the air.

     It was the lowly turkey buzzard that gave this idea to Professor Langley.  On this subject he says; “Did you ever think what a physical miracle it is for such a bird as one of our common turkey buzzards to fly in the way it does?  You may see them any day along the Potomac, floating in the air, with hardly the movement of their feathers.  These birds weigh fro five to ten pounds; they are far heavier than the air they displace; they are absolutely heavier than so many flatirons.”    

A Mysterious Machine       

     Professor Langley has been most reticent about the construction of his machine.  He uses steam as a driving power.  It is in the distribution and form of the solid matter, he says, which allows it to float through the air, and the greater the speed attained the less danger there is of the machine falling.  Less than three months ago Professor Langley sent a small machine on a flight of nearly half a mile through the air in the presence of Alexander Graham Bell.  The machine was built of steel, weighed 24 pounds and measured 14 feet from end to end.  It was 1,000 times heavier than the air supporting it.  Great secrecy attended the experiment, and the world would probably have never known of it had it not been for the enthusiasm of professor bell.  Professor Langley is now at work on a larger and heavier machine, in which the driving power will be much greater.  It is possible that the new machine will be exhibited at the Boston convention.

The Lilienthal Idea  

     Professor Langley does not believe that man has sufficient strength  to fly with artificial wings.  His rival, Herr Lilienthal, does.  His machines are constructed on that idea.  With the Lilienthal machine it is necessary to start the flight from a high hill.  The flyer buckles on the machine, takes a sharp run and jumps into space.  The big wings on the machine are supposed to do the rest.  The novice, when he runs and jumps, usually hits the ground with his face.  Herr Lilienthal has had an artificial hill fifty feet high built near his home at Gros Lichterfelde, a suburb of Berlin.  From this eminence he has made repeated flights of 250 yards.    








Boston Kite Flying Experiments – 1890s

Boston Kite Flying Experiments of the 1890s

     Kite flying experiments intended to further the study of meteorology and aeronautics, as well as influence possible designs for future flying machines, were conducted in the 1890s at the Blue Hills Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts.  The program was administered by the Boston Aeronautical Society, an organization that was founded in the spring of 1895.  The society initially consisted of about twenty members, each considered an expert in their field of research. 

     The mission of the society was to encourage experiments with aerial “machines”, (not necessarily mechanical) and to collect and disseminate knowledge relating to solving the problems of aerial navigation, for it was still a time when manned mechanical flight had not yet been perfected.

     In April of 1896 it was announced that the society had decided to include in its mission the encouragement of research and development of kite design.  As an incentive, the society offered monetary prizes for kites that could perform in certain ways.   

     The kites used in the Blue Hills experiments weren’t toys, but large, well designed, scientific instruments meant to fly at high altitudes to gather atmospheric readings.  On July 4, 1896, it was stated in the Evening Star, a Washington D. C. newspaper, “The Boston Aeronautical Society holds that the kite is a scientific instrument of value, and worthy the attention of those who take an interest in scientific equipment.”

      Some of the kite experiments resulted in kite-altitude records being set. On July 21, 1896, what was described as a “flight of kites” was sent up from the Blue Hills Observatory.  The kites were strung together in tandem, and the uppermost kite soared to the record breaking height of 7,200 feet above sea level according to the altimeter device which had been attached to the string below it.  The observatory, it was said, is situated at 625 feet above sea level.

     During another flight the string connected to the kites broke while they were 2,000 feet in the air, sending them and the attached instruments sailing off and out of sight.  They were later recovered three miles away from their starting point. 

     On August 1st a new kite-altitude record was achieved when a string of kites reached 7,333 feet.   The event was witnessed by fifty members of the Appalachian Club. 

     Not long afterward, a new altitude record of 7,441 feet was established.    

This illustration of William Eddy’s kite configuration as he photographed Boston from above appeared in newspapers of the day.

     One man who came to Boston to participate in the Blue Hills kite experiments was William Abner Eddy, (1850-1909), of Bayonne, New Jersey.  Eddy was the inventor of the “Eddy Kite”; a some-what diamond shaped kite of large proportions which lacked a tail. 

     In August of 1896, Eddy arrived with twenty-two of his kites with the intention of taking aerial photographs of Boston by suspending a camera in the air and working the shutter remotely from the ground.  Mr. Eddy was already credited with taking the first aerial kite photograph in the United States in Bayonne, N.J., on May 30, 1895. 

     Eddy began his photographic trials over Boston on Monday, August 24, from the roof of the post office building, and continued them throughout the week.  The first picture was taken from an altitude of 400 feet, the second at 700 feet, and the next four at 500 feet.

     On August 25, as Eddy was attempting to take his seventh aerial picture over the city, the string to the kites broke, sending all nine kites and his camera crashing to the street, but it was reported that it did not appear that the camera was too badly damaged, or the film compromised.     

     When all of the film plates were later developed, it was found that Mr. Eddy had captured some great aerial views of the Boston Common area, Beacon Street, Commonwealth Avenue, Tremont and Washington Streets, and the Charles River.  Some were taken from an altitude of 1,500 feet.       

     The kites Mr. Eddy employed for the project measured seven feet in diameter and between four to eight were flown at the same time depending on the wind. 

     Besides his camera, Mr. Eddy also attached a self-registering thermometer to record temperatures at different altitudes above the city to be compared with temperatures above the Blue Hills Observatory from kites being flown there during the same time.      

     In the autumn of 1896 further kite experiments were conducted at the Blue Hills Observatory to gather meteorological data.  In these experiments, nine kites attached by piano wire and carrying meteorological instruments reportedly rose to nearly 9,000 feet. 

     One newspaper, The Austin Weekly Statesman, described the process: “The kites were three in number, all of them on this occasion of the Eddy pattern, two of them being at the end of the line and the third some hundreds of feet below.  The kites were of large size, two of them being six feet in their largest dimension, and the third one a monster of nine feet, presenting some 65 square feet of surface to the wind.  This varied from 18 to 31 miles per hour at the surface, and the pull of the wire which held the kites mounted at times to upwards of 125 pounds.” 


     Courier Democrat, (Langdon, N.D.), “Taken From A Kite – Ingenious Method Of Taking Photographs”, August 1, 1895

     Evening Star, (Washington, D. C.), “Kites And Science”, July 4, 1896 

     The Topeka State Journal, (Topeka, Kansas), “Cloud Tourists – Aeronauts Will Hold A Unique Convention In Boston”, July 18, 1896

     The Topeka State Journal, “New Kite Record”, July 25, 1896  

     The Herald, (Los Angeles, CA.), “Great Kite Flying”, August 2, 1896

     The Evening Times, (Washington, D.C.), “Photos From The Sky”, August 24, 1896

     The Sun, (New York, N.Y.), “Eddy’s Kite String Broke”, August 26, 1896

     The Roanoke Daily Times, (Roanoke, VA.), “Kite Photograph Of Boston”, August 27, 1896 

     Waterbury Democrat, (Waterbury, Ct.), “Mid-Air Photographs”, August 28, 1896 

     The Austin Weekly Statesman, (Austin, TX.), “High Kite Flying In Boston”, October 1, 1896  

     The Chicago Eagle, (No Headline), October 31, 1896


The Boston Aeronautical Manufacturing Co. – 1909

The Boston Aeronautical Manufacturing Company – 1909

     The following newspaper articles relate to the Boston Aeronautical Manufacturing Company, of which little is known.  

     The following article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Bridgeport, CT.), on December 23, 1909.  


     Boston, Dec. 23 – A new airship intended to carry a dozen or more people and expected by the inventor to be capable of going to New York with the greatest ease, and later of making a trip across the Atlantic in two days, is promised by a new Boston flying machine concern, the Boston Aeronautical Manufacturing Company, just incorporated here with a capital of $500,000.

     The president of the new company is Frank S. Corlew of the Corlew-Coughlin Motor Company, and its vice president and engineer, Albert Gouldhart, inventor of the new machine.  Mr. Gouldhart is now completing the machine with which he will make the first flight about May 30.

     The machine will weigh 800 pounds and will have a lifting capacity of 2,500 pounds. 

     Mr. Gouldhart says that the machine will rise in its own space perpendicular from the starting point and without any assistance outside of its own power to about 5,000 feet, although it is said almost any height may be attained.  At this point the airship will keep as nearly as possible on that same level until it has attained a speed of 75 miles an hour.  Then the planes will be set so as to attain a gradual descent, the power shut off and the machine, with its initial velocity will glide rapidly toward the earth and to within a few hundred feet, then will be shot up again.  While gliding or coasting, the inventor expects to keep a speed of about 40 miles an hour.    

     The following article appeared in The Spokane Press, (Spokane, WA.), December 31, 1909.  


     Boston, Dec. 31 – Aeroplanists sailing Bostonward next spring need not suspend their journeys on the outskirts of the city but can fly into the heart of the downtown section, for a flying machine landing is to be established for them.  It will be on the top of the large five-story building on Hawkins Street, known as the Sudbury Garage, and plans are now being made to provide all the necessary facilities for the landing and starting of different types of aeronautical craft on the broad roof of the building.  To conduct this station and also to build a new type of flying machine the Boston Aeronautical Company has been incorporated with $500,000 capital.  


Charles B. Whittlesey’s Airship – 1908

Charles B. Whittlesey’s Airship – 1908


     In or about August of 1908, Charles B. Whittlesey Jr., Age 9, of Hartford, Connecticut, saw plans for building a dirigible airship in a Sunday newspaper.  The plans didn’t seem too complicated, so he brought the matter to his father, Charles Sr., who was superintendent of the Hartford Rubber Works.  Mr. Whittlesey liked the idea of building a scale-model airship, and figured it would be good publicity for the rubber company. 

     After enlisting the help of several workers, construction was begun in a vacant area of the factory.  The finished airship had a cigar shaped gas bag that was eight-and-a-half feet long, and eighteen inches in diameter, made of “Indian Mull” and covered with rubber cement.  It could hold fourteen cubic feet of gas. 

     A framework was suspended beneath the gas-bag which held a small battery operated “Rex” motor that drove a four inch wide, three-blade wooden propeller 300 revolutions per minute.         

     The entire airship weighed slightly less than four pounds.

     When completed, the airship was named the “Hartford 1”. 

     Initial testing was done in November of 1908, and several successful flights were made in the back lot of the factory.  The gas bag wasn’t large enough to lift the ship to any great height, and the ship lacked a rudder, but Mr. Whittlesey could see the potential and planned to make improvements on the initial design.   

     The Hartford 1 was presented to Charles Jr. on his birthday, November 24, 1908. 


     Hartford Courant, “The First Airship Made In Hartford”, November 24, 1908.       

The Aerial Construction Company Of Hartford – 1911

The Aerial Construction Company Of Hartford – 1911

     The Aerial Construction Company of Hartford, Connecticut, was established in September of 1911 for the purpose of building a commercial airship of German design that could carry passengers.  The business office was located at 212 Asylum Street, Room 10, in Hartford.

     The company started with $50,000 in capital.

     The officers of the company were listed as: President, F. W. Dart; Vice-President, F. W. Stickle; Treasurer, F. C. Billings; Secretary, H. Franklin Wells; managing Director, Joseph K. Kopacka, all of Hartford.

     The company’s Chief Engineer was listed as John Twardus of Germany, who was known for his work in aeronautics.   

     The company announced plans to begin construction of its first airship, to be named “The Hartford Flyer”, as soon as possible.  The Hartford Flyer  would have a 135 foot long cigar-shaped gas-bag with a car situated underneath capable of carrying seven passengers and a pilot. The ship would be powered by a 75 h.p. motor capable of driving it through the air at forty to fifty miles per hour.

     It is unknown if this airship was completed.  


     Hartford Courant, “A New Commercial Airship”, September 19, 1911

Harvard University Aeronautical Society – Harvard 1

Harvard University Aeronautical Society – Harvard 1

Vintage postcard view of a

Curtiss Airplane

      The Harvard University Aeronautical Society was established in November of 1909 with 250 charter members.  In 1910 the society constructed its own airplane, a Curtiss style biplane called the “Harvard 1”.  It was the first airplane to be owned by any college or university in America.  

     The following newspaper articles relate to the “Harvard 1”  


     The following newspaper article appeared in The Caucasian, (Shreveport, La.), on January 25, 1910.   


     All the materials and accessories necessary to the construction of a first class, full size aeroplane have been ordered by the Harvard University Aeronautical Society.  J. V. Martin, director of the organization, has been authorized to make such purchases as he may deem necessary to build a two passenger biplane.  Plans of the machine have already been completed.  When it comes time to manufacture the various parts needed in the construction of the aeroplane the work will be done by undergraduates in the Harvard engineering and scientific departments, and the assembling of the machine will also be under their charge.    


     By June of 1910 the Harvard 1 was ready for testing.  The following article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Bridgeport, Ct.), on June 14, 1910.


     Boston, June 14 – Harvard’s new aeroplane, the first flying machine owned by any college in America, went for the first time under its own power in a series of engine testing feats on Soldiers Field today.  The Harvard I, as it has named, did not leave the ground, and the attempt to fly will not be made until tomorrow morning, when if the weather is propitious, the machine will have further tests.

     In the trials this morning the aeroplane simply covered the length of the field four times on the rubber-tired wheels with which it is equipped for starting purposes.  The engine proved able to drive the propeller at 1,200 revolutions per minute and to develop in the propeller a thrust of 190 pounds.

     The aeroplane developed speed quicker than an automobile and within 100 yards was going at about 20 miles per hour.


     The following article appeared in The Washington Times, (Washington D.C.),  on July 11, 1910.


     Boston, July 11 – Harvard aeroplane No. 1 made two fairly successful flights on Soldiers Field today.  In the first the machine traveled fifty yards.  Fifteen minutes later the machine went an estimated distance of 150 yards.  During the first flight an altitude of four or five feet was attained and in the second flight about eight feet.

     When descending from the second flight the machine landed on the left rear wheel, breaking it and disabling the machine for further use today.  It was operated by J. B. martin.  the Harvard Aeronautical Association has announced that it will build another machine of the passenger-carrying type.  


     The following article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Bridgeport, Ct.), on July 12, 1910, page 4. 


     Boston, Mass., July 12 – Harvard aeronauts today are busily engaged patching up their aeroplane Harvard I which has again been smashed after twice getting off the ground in the first flights of its erratic career.  In the latest attempt the flier covered 100 yards at about five to eight feet from the ground.  The was preceded by a trip of 50 yards. 

     As the ship was making good speed towards the bleechers it collapsed, landing on the left rear wheel and straining a wire.  In a subsequently attempted flight, this wire snapped.  The Harvard Aeronautical Club proposes to begin working on a passenger ship within a week. The latter craft, together with the Harvard I, will compete in the aero meet this coming September at the stadium.


     (The aero meet referred to was the famous Harvard-Boston Aero Meet of 1910.)


     The following article appeared in the New York Tribune, August 27, 1910, page 4.


     Boston, Aug. 26 – The two flying machines now assembled on the aviation field at Atlantic, where, from September 3 to 13, is to be held the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, were almost carried off to-day by a gale of wind during a heavy rainstorm. The machines – the Harvard I aeroplane and the Pfitzner monoplane – were stripped clear of the their covering, and the monoplane lost its wings.

     H. F. Kearney, an aviator, of Missouri, who is to fly the Pfitzner monoplane, had expected to make his first flight on the Atlantic field to-day, but the storm forced him to abandon the attempt. 

     Cromwell Dixon, in his dirigible airship, declares that on Tuesday he is going to try to fly from Boston to Plymouth, more than forty miles, landing as near Plymouth Rock as possible.  later he intends to retrace Paul revere’s historic ride through Middlesex County towns , to circle Bunker Hill Monument and to maneuver over the navy yard at Charlestown and over vessels in the harbor, dropping imitation bombs.


     Other Sources:

     The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, “Harvard Men To Build Biplane”, February 26, 1910, page 6.

The Harvard-Boston Aero Meet of 1910

The Harvard-Boston Aero Meet of 1910


Vintage postcard view of a
Curtiss Airplane

     The Harvard-Boston Aero Meet of 1910 was the first international air-meet of its kind ever held in the United States, and became an aviation record setting event.  Some newspapers touted it as “the greatest meet of its kind ever held in America”, and it was, for it eclipsed the first international aviation meet that was held in Reims, France, the year before.  

     Although it was advertised as the “Harvard-Boston Aero Meet”, the event was actually held on a 500 acre tract of land on the Squantum Peninsula in the neighboring town of Quincy, but some newspapers reported the location as being in “Boston”, “Squantum”, “Atlantic”, or “Soldiers Field”.

     The air meet was originally scheduled to be held from September 3rd thru September 13, but was so successful that it was extended for two additional days.  Preparations had been made months before the start, with advertising and promotion, vendors, and the construction of grandstands capable of seating 150,000 people, and parking areas which could accommodate up to 10,000 automobiles.

     The event came about through the efforts of the Aero Club of New England and the Harvard Aeronautical Society of Harvard University.   

     The following newspaper article which appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Bridgeport, CT.), on May 24, 1910, indicates that during the early planning stages there was some disagreement between the various aero clubs across the country.     


     New York, May 24. – When the board of governors of the Aero Club of America meets this afternoon to decide formally upon a place for holding the international aviation contest and to award the contract for financing the meet, it is not likely that representatives of the various aero clubs throughout America will be present following the split which has resulted in the foundation of a rival aero club.  The split will probably be followed by new complications in the patent suits of the Wright Brothers which were thought to have ended when the Aero Club of America recently recognized the validity of the Wrights patents and agreed that no aviation meet should be held in America unless it consed (newspaper word/spelling) by the Wright company.  

     The clubs which were formally affiliated with the Aero Club of America and which have now broken away to form the American Aeronautic Association are the aero organizations of Indianapolis, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Harvard, Illinois, Washington and Buffalo.  The Aero Club of America declares that the association of out-of-town clubs will in no way affect the international aviation meet to be held in October, plans for which will be completed this afternoon.

     The insurgents say they will in their turn hold such aviation meetings as they see fit.  This will surely be followed by legal complications for the Wright company would immediately seek to enjoin any meeting held without license.  If the courts uphold the validity of the Wright patents as some have done heretofore, opposition would be useless.


     An unrelated dispute arose between two of America’s top aviators, Glenn Curtiss and Charles Hamilton, which was reported in the New York Tribune, on August 2, 1910, page 2.


Aero Club Can’t Settle Dispute Between Curtis And Hamilton

Both Men Prove Obstinate

Hamilton Still Without License, And Curtis Insists He Stick To Old Agreement

     Aviators have highly sensitive organisms, and when they fall out there is not much use in a third party trying to reconcile them.

     Curtiss and Hamilton have not smiled when speaking of each other for several weeks now.

     “You can’t fly at Harvard in any machine other than the one I make at Hammondsport,” says Curtiss to the bull-headed younger man.

     “I won’t fly anywhere unless in a machine not made by Curtiss,” replies Hamilton to one and all.

     And then the third party, the national council of the Aero Club of America, tried to calm the breezes and invent some means whereby both aviators could make money while utilizing the same sky.

     The council met at 3 p.m. yesterday and worked hard until 7 o’clock.  It was decided that that body could sanction only an aeromatic show that was open to any licensed and duly qualified aviator.

     The action settled the right of Hamilton to fly at Harvard, without of course, involving the council concerning the alleged contract existing between Curtiss and Hamilton, which Curtiss maintains, binds Hamilton to fly the former’s type of machine for a stated period.

     Although Hamilton has not yet been “licensed” by the Aero Club, no doubt is prevalent of his ability to qualify.  It would, in fact, be a serious undertaking for any aviator in America to duplicate the things that Hamilton  might well be expected to do while proving that he knew how to be a pilot.

     Curtiss was appointed by the club some time ago to “observe Mr. Hamilton for three flights,” so the officials might be guided in giving him a license.  Curtiss has requested that the club waive the triple observation and issue the license any way.

     All this then points to the probability that if Hamilton does not fly at the Harvard aeronautic meet, September 3 to 13, it will not be because he is short on qualification.

     But it does not lessen the strain on a lot of persons as to whether Curtiss and Hamilton will fly at Harvard together or separately, or whether Harvard will have any aeronautical meet.  The action of the council yesterday doesn’t help Curtiss or Hamilton to attain equilibrium.  It is said by Curtiss’s manager, J. S. Fanciulli, who is also secretary of the executive committee of the council, that Curtiss will not fly at Harvard if the aero club of that learned institution consents to Hamilton’s appearance in a machine not named for his principal.      

     Hamilton said last night after the conference that he would not go to Harvard or take any steps leading toward Harvard unless he was invited – he might add, urged.

     It is all most unsatisfactory and befuddled to many interested enthusiasts.

     Israel Ludlow was Hamilton’s attorney at the meeting yesterday.  Fanciulli was invited to retire temporarily as secretary, but was commended in a resolution later.

     It is said he will be retained by the council in that capacity, and will also manage the making of exhibition contracts for Curtiss.

     “I am at a loss to explain the action of the National Council of the Aero Club of America,” said President A. Lawrence Rotch of the Harvard Aeronautical Club, when told to-night at his summer home in Northeast Harbor, Me., of the council’s step in deciding to withhold sanction of the Harvard aviation meet in September unless the entry of Charles K. Hamilton is accepted.  

     President Rotch declined to say whether or not the meet would be held regardless of the official sanction, saying it was a matter for the directors to consider.

     Adams D. Claflin, manager of the meet, denied that any one had been barred from competing.  he added: “Hamilton can fly if he wants to.  I can assign no reason for the action of the national council.” 


     Apparently all matters were settled for the aero meet took place as scheduled, and Charles Hamilton and Glenn Cutriss participated.        

     Initially balloons of all types were going to be allowed to participate in the aero meet, and plans were in the works for constructing a hydrogen plant, however, in mid-August it was announced that balloons would not be allowed so as not to detract from the airplane flying contests.  

Vintage postcard image of Boston Light

     The Harvard-Boston Aero Meet drew the world’s top airmen of the day.  One particular incentive was a $10,000 cash prize offered by the Boston Globe newspaper for the fastest flight by “any kind of flying machine from Soldiers Field to Boston Light” and back, without stopping.   The distance from the airfield to the light was reported to be a little more than 12 miles which meant an aircraft had to cover almost 25 miles.  This might seem mundane in today’s world, but aviation technology was still in its infancy in 1910, and a pilot had to be confident of his abilities and his machine to attempt such a “long distance” water crossing.  And besides the fame that would go to the winner, ten-thousand dollars was a fortune.   This contest was open to anyone, and contenders were welcome to try their best efforts each day of the meet 12 noon and 7 p.m.   Furthermore, a contestant would be allowed to fly the course as many times as they dared.         

Curtiss Airplane

     In addition to the Globe’s prize money, cash prizes totaling $50,000 were to be awarded to the winners of other contests which included “duration flights” to see who could stay in the air the longest; bomb dropping contests, where points would be scored for accuracy; “get away” contests, to see who take off in the shortest distance; and “accuracy in landing”, to see who could land closest to a designated spot on the field.  These contests were open to all types of mechanical aircraft.

     On August 20, 1910, the New York Tribune reported in part: “No aviation meet held in this country, and probably none yet held in the world, has had such a representative list of foremost aviators as is assured the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet according to the list of entrants to date, announced to-night.  The entry list is international and includes seventeen individual aviators and eleven types of air navigating machines.  The latter embrace the three principal standard types – the monoplane, biplane, and triplane.  It will be the first time the latter type has been exhibited in this country. ”    

      The entrants to date, with their respective types of airship, are as follows: 

     Walter Brookins and Arthur Johnstone, Wirght biplane. (This should read Ralph Johnstone, not Arhtur.)

     M. Didier Masson, Vendome aeroplane.

     A. V. Roe, Roe triplane. (Mr. Roe’s full name was Alliott Vernon Roe.)

     C. Graham-White, Farman biplane and Bleriot monoplane.

     William M. Hillard, Herring-Burgess biplane.  

     J. M. Allias, Harvard biplane.

     Dr. W. W. Christmas, Christmas biplane. ( Full name William W. Christmas, 1865-1960)

     John G. Stratton, Burgess-Curtiss aeroplane.

     Horace F. Kearney, Pfitzner aeroplane

     Greeley S. Curtiss, Bleriot monoplane,

     Ernest P. Lincoln, Clifford B. Harmon, Captain Thomas Baldwin and Jacques De Lesseps.

     For the purposes of exhibition only, Cromwell Dixon also will appear in a dirigible balloon.


A vintage postcard view of a Bleriot monoplane.

     As the aviators arrived in Boston in preparation for the meet, their aircraft were secured in tents at the airfield.  On August 26 disaster struck for two of them when a severe storm came through the area and severely damaged two planes; the Harvard I, belonging to the Harvard Aero Club, and the Pfitzner monoplane owned by Horace Kearney.  Both aircraft had their canvas skins shredded and the wings from Kearney’s monoplane were pulled away. 

     Meanwhile, aeronaut Cromwell Dixon, stated to the press that on Tuesday, August 30, he planned to fly his dirigible airship from Boston to Plymouth, Massachusetts, a distance of more than forty miles, and landing as close to  Plymouth Rock as possible.  He then planned to retrace Paul Revere’s historic ride via the air, and circle the Bunker Hill Monument before continuing out over Boston Harbor where he would drop imitation bombs on naval vessels. 

     Cromwell Dixon was born July 9, 1892, and by the age of 14 had built his own airship.  In September of 1910, at 18,  he was one of America’s youngest aviators.  He died in an aviation accident on October 2, 1911, in Spokane, Washington.  

Souvenir Postcard View of A. V. Roe’s Triplane

     One aircraft that drew a great deal of attention was a tri-plane belonging to aviator A. V. Roe, (Alliott V. Roe, 1877-1958), which was the first of its kind seen in America. It was reported that his competitors were anxious to see how it would perform against their biplanes and monoplanes. 

     It also was announced that there would be a woman aviator taking part in the meet, 21-year-old Miss Emily T. Willard, of Melrose, Massachusetts, sister of well known aviator Charles F. Willard, hailed by the press to be one of America’s most daring aviators. 

     By September 1st the number of aviators registered to compete in the aero meet had risen to twenty-two.  The following in an excerpt of an article that appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune, (Utah), on September 2, 1910, page 10.       

    “ When the contest committee closed the entries at noon, twenty-two aviators and thirteen different makes of aeroplanes had been registered.  Among the latest to file their applications were Stanley Y. Beach, who will be seen in a Bleriot equipped with a gyroscope for securing stability – the first of its kind: H. Rietmann, with a helicopter, also the only one of its kind: H. A. Connors, with a Connors biplane; Augustus Post, with a Curtiss biplane, and John W. Wilson, who will be seen in a unique man-propelled monoplane.”          

A Vintage Souvenir Postcard of
Claude Grahame-White’s Bleriot monoplane

     The evening before the aero meet was to begin, English aviator Claude Grahame-White made a practice flight around the airfield.  The following morning, people began to gather at the field before sunrise to be sure they obtained prime viewing locations.  Not wanting to disappoint the early risers, Grahame-White started his aircraft and took off to make a six mile flight circling the field, thus unofficially opening the meet.       

      The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Conn.), reported in part; “Grahame-White left the ground within five minutes after his machine was run out of the tent which had sheltered it.  He flew three times around the course marked out on the field.  The first lap was made in 2:16.75 official time.  The second lap was completed in 2:17.75.”

     The flight was made at an average height of between 150 and 200 feet, and took a total time of 7 minutes and 1.60 seconds.        

     Later in the day the first accident occurred when Clifford B. Harmon’s biplane sank into soft dirt during take-off.  Some of the wet dirt stuck to the wheels of the plane, upsetting the aircraft’s aerodynamics and causing it to crash into a marsh from an altitude of forty feet.  Although the plane was damaged, Harmon was not hurt.    

     About noon time a drizzling rain began to fall sending some of the crowds home, but those that chose to remain got to see Claude Grahame-White make another three-lap flight around the field.  The five and a quarter mile flight was accomplished in 6 minutes and 5 seconds, which was the best speed of the day.        

     At 6:30 p.m., Glenn H. Curtiss made some practice flights in his airplane.

    Among the spectators on opening day was John Trowbridge, the Cambridge, Massachusetts author who in 1869 penned the famous poem, “Darius Green and His Flying Machine”.  It was reported that despite his writings, he’d never seen a flying machine, and took great interest in the aircraft.        

    On September 4, Claude Grahame-White took first place in all five classes.  He also gave several exhibition flights where he performed hazardous aerobatics.  On one flight he carried as a passenger a Miss Campbell of New York.  With Miss Campbell aboard he circled the field twice and then performed a 200 foot aerial slide pulling out a mere ten feet from the ground before coming down to land.     

     It was reported that the best time of the day (around the airfield) was made by Grahame -White.  This time he covered 5 and 1/4 miles in six minutes, one second with a Bleriot airplane.

     White’s distance record of the day was 45 miles 617 feet, on which trip he was in the air for one hour and 15 minutes, 7 seconds.

     On that same day, Charles F. Willard took Miss Eleanor Ladd of Boston on a flight.  She worked for a Boston newspaper, and was reportedly the first newspaper women in America to fly in an airplane.

     Apparently it wasn’t until September 7th, five days into the meet, that any of the airmen attempted to win the coveted $10,000 cash prize offered by the Boston Globe.  The following details were reported in the Burlington Weekly Free Press, (Vermont), on September 8th. 

     “On September 7th Claude Grahame White became the first competitor to try for the Boston Globe’s 10,000 prize money by flying to Boston Light and back in his Belriot monoplane.  The established course required two trips to the light and back as well as some twists and turns which brought the total miles to be covered to 33.  Grahame-White accomplished this in 40 minutes 1 and 3/5 seconds which set the mark for all other contestants to beat.    

     While passing over the water toward the light at an altitude of 1,000 feet, three U.S. Navy torpedo boats, Stringham, MacDonough, and Bailey, gave chase, but couldn’t keep up with the speed of the airplane.   

     Meanwhile Glenn Curtiss flew his aircraft over a one-and-three-quarter-mile course in six minutes and 29 3/5 seconds.  He also beat Graham-White’s score in the “landing accuracy” event when he came down within 68 feet 10 inches of the mark, besting his rival by 100 feet.” 

Claude Grahame-White’s Curtiss Airplane

     On September 8th, Alliott V. Roe took off in his triplane and circled the field once before his aircraft was hit by a strong gust of wind and crashed near the grandstand from an altitude of about twenty-five feet.  As he was assisted from the wreckage he declared that he wasn’t seriously hurt, but the triplane had to be removed in sections.

     William Hillard then made a similar flight circling the field at about thirty-five feet in the air without incident.

     Ralph Johnstone, Walter Brookins, and Claude Grahame-White, competed for the altitude record. 

     Wilbur Wright announced that his aircraft would not be participating in the speed contests, stating that his airplanes were built more for better fuel economy,  carrying ability, and durability.    

     Augustus Post made several short flights in his Curtiss biplane.

     On September 9, Claude Grahame-White was piloting his Farman biplane when he crashed while attempting to land, crumpling the right wing and damaging the chassis.  Grahame-White, however, was not hurt.  The accident was due to the aircraft being caught in a strong gust of wind.

     The accident occurred at the end of a duration flight contest.  Ralph Johnstone was forced to land during the same contest when the motor of his Wright biplane began to misfire.  At the time Grahame-White had his accident, he had exceeded Johnstone’s time by four minutes, and would have stayed up longer, but was signaled to land by Mr. McDonald, his manager, due to the wind building up.    

     Grahame-White had flown 33 miles and 1,420 feet, compared to Johnstone’s 28 miles, 4,557 feet.     

     Grahame-White already held the world’s record for distance required for take-offs;  20 feet 9 inches.  Prior to the accident he’d tried to beat his own record but was unsuccessful.  He did, however, manage a low score of 26 feet 11 inches which put him in first place for that competition at the aero meet.    

     September 9th was also Governor’s Day at the meet, and Massachusetts Governor Eben S. Draper was on hand with several of his staff.

     Apparently contestants were given points based on their performance in various contests. By the end of the day the following rankings were reported: 

     Bomb Dropping Contest: Claude Grahame-White, 75 points; Glenn H. Curtiss, 25, Charles F. Willard, 13.    

     The standing of the contestants in the other four events in which points were awarded were as follows:  Claude Grahame-White, 30.5 points; Ralph Johnstone, 17; Walter Brookins, 10: Charles F. Willard, 7: Glenn H. Curtiss, 6.5.

     On September 10, Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtiss competed in the bomb dropping contest by dropping bombs at a mock-up of a battleship.  Curtiss flew his new biplane dubbed “The Flying Fish”.

     Walter Brookins attempted to best his own altitude record of 6,160 feet but was unable to do so.  He did however set a record for airplanes equipped with skids instead of wheels when he landed his biplane 12 feet 1 inch from a given point on the ground in the accuracy contest.   

     Ralph Johnstone set a new duration record by remaining in the air two hours, three minutes, and 5.25 seconds, covering 62 miles and 3,756 feet.  

     On September 12th it was reported that one world’s record and two American records had been broken.  Ralph Johnson set two new records, one in accuracy landing, and the other in distance.  He remained airborne for 3 hours, 4 minutes, and 44 seconds, which broke Clifford Harmon’s record of 1 hour and 58 minutes.  Johnstone’s flight covered 97 miles and 4,466 feet, breaking Harmon’s old record of 90 miles.  Upon landing Johnstone came down almost on top of the designated mark on the field setting a new world’s record.   

     Claude Grahame-White flew twice to Boston Light in his Belroit monoplane covering a distance of 33 miles in 34 minutes.

     What was mentioned as “a feature of slightly less interest” involved a flight made by Charles F. Willard who took along army lieutenant Jacob E. Finkel, a rifle sharpshooter.  As Willard circled the airfield, Finkel fired shots from the airplane at targets on the ground, hitting them more often than not.  The “experiment” was considered “highly satisfactory”.        

     On the final day of the meet, it was determined that the overall champion was Claude Grahame-White.  He’d not only won the $10,000 crash prize from the Boston Globe, but also won first place in four other events, and second place in three others, earning an additional $22,000 dollars.   

     As to Grahame-White’s victory,  the Norwich Bulletin reported in part: (that Glenn Curtis had) “secured a fast motor for his Hudson river flier too late to contest White’s rights to the Globe $10,000 prize, has challenged the Englishman to a match race, the latter to use the Bleriot with which he won the prize.” 

     Ralph Johnston won three first prizes and one second prize for at total of $5,000 in winnings.  Johnston would be killed a few weeks later in a plane crash in Denver, Colorado, on November 17, 1910.  

     Walter Brookins won two first place prizes and one second, earning himself $4,250.

     Glenn Curtiss won the second place prize for speed and took home $2,000.

     Charles Willard won $50 for second place in take-offs. 

     Clifford Harmon of New York reportedly won “all the amateur prizes” but there was no mention of what the amounted to in prize money.

    Although regular prize competition for all events had been closed on the last day, the meet had been so popular that it was decided to allow it to continue for an additional two days. 

     The following day, September 14, a bomb dropping contest from an altitude of 1,800 feet was held, and trophy’s were awarded the winners.

     Two more Boston aero meets were held at the same airfield, one in 1911, and the other in 1912. It was at the 1912 aero meet that well known aviator Harriet Quimby, and William Willard, the event’s organizer, were killed.    


     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Conn.) “Insurgents Will Now Hold Rival Aviation Meets”, May 24, 1910, page 8

     New York Tribune, “Harvard Meet In Danger”, August 2, 1910, page 2.

     Vermont Phoenix, “Globes $10,000 Prize”, August 5, 1910, page 3.

     New York Tribune, “No Balloons At Aero Meet”, August 18, 1910, page 3.

     New York Tribune, “Leading Aviators Enter”, August 20, 1910, page 3.

     New York Tribune, “Wind damages Aeroplanes”, August 27, 1910, page 4.

     The Calumet News, (Calumet, Mich.), “Big Aviation Meet In Boston”, September 1, 1910.

     The Salt Lake Tribune, (Utah), “Twenty-two Aviators In Harvard-Boston Meet”, September 2, 1910, page 10.

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Conn.) , “English Aviator Makes Six Mile Flight In Boston”, September 3, 1910, page 2.

     Los Angeles Herald, “Big Flock Of Men-Birds Flies At Harvard Field”, September 4, 1910.

     The Bemidji Pioneer, (Minn.) “Aeroplane Cuts Capers”, September 6, 1910.

     The Washington Times, (Wash. D.C.), “Current Tumbles Amateur Aviator”, September 8, 1910, Last Edition, page 4.

     Burlington Weekly Free Press, “English Airman Flies To Light”, September 8, 1910, page 12.

     The Topeka State Journal, (Kansas), “Wrecks his Machine”, September 8, 1910, page 3.  

     New York Tribune, “Smash At Aero Meet”, September 10, 1910, page 4.

     Los Angeles Herald, “Big Aeroplane At Boston Falls In A Heap On Aviation Field”, September 10, 1910, page 13.

     New York Tribune, “New Endurance Record”, September 11, 1910, page 7.

     Los Angeles Herald, “Johnstone Sets Three New Records”, September 13, 1910, page 6.

     Palestine Daily Herald, (Palestine, TX.), “Records Crumble”, September 13, 1910.   

     San Francisco Call, “English Aviator Wins Blue Ribbon”, September 14, 1910, page 1.

     Norwich Bulletin, (Conn.) “Continue For Two Days”, September 14, 1910.

Off Revere Beach, MA – June 6, 1907

Off Revere Beach, Massachusetts – June 6, 1907  

     The following article appeared in The Sun, a now defunct New York newspaper, on June 7, 1907.  It tells of a flight over Boston made by famous aeronaut Lincoln Beachey that ended with his unintentional landing in the water one mile off shore from Revere Beach.  Beachey’s “flying machine” was constructed with a motor and a balloon, and was not an airplane.   


     Aeronaut Beachey Finally Is Fished Out Of The Water Off Revere Beach

     Boston, June 6, – After an exciting trip over greater Boston, Lincoln Beachey of San Francisco dropped with is flying machine into the water between Nahant and revere Beach late this afternoon and was rescued by four boats which had been chasing his disabled air craft for half an hour.

     He made his flight from an amusement place at Revere Beach to Boston Common and back, as he had promised, but many times on the way he was in danger.  Twice his motor broke down; once shortly after he had crossed the Mystic River, and again after he had got back into midair after a descent at Winthrop for temporary repairs.

     The second time he was carried several miles in the direction of Boston Light.  Then he got temporary control of the machine again and sailed over Nahant, and finally, a mile off Revere Beach, he dropped into the water.  The boats which had started after him when he was seen wabbling in the air above Winthrop soon reached him and fifteen minutes later had him and his airship on shore.

     On the way to the Commons he circled his airship twice around the State dome and dropped a message for Gov. Guild.  The Governor and most of the legislators crowded the balconies and sidewalks about the State House as the airship sailed over them.  There were 50,000 persons on the Common when the airship descended near the Soldiers Monument.        

Herring-Burgess Flying Fish Aeroplane – 1910

Click on image to enlarge.

Herring – Burgess “Flying Fish” Aeroplane – 1910

     The Herring-Burgess company produced airplanes in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the early 1900s.  Their Flying Fish aircraft was reported to be the first airplane to fly in New England.  It was known for the eight “fins” attached to the upper wing for better stability. 

     Some sources say the Flying Fish made its maiden flight on April 17, 1910, but an article which appeared in the New York Tribune indicates its first flight took place weeks earlier on March 1st.  (See the following newspaper articles below.)  


New Style Flier

Herring and Burgess Have a Successful Trial at Marblehead

     Boston, March 1 – A. M. Herring and W. Starling Burgess launched today at Marblehead a new heavier-than-air flying machine.  Its first trip was said to be successful.

     It is an aeroplane, frankly intended to avoid the Wright patents. Instead of the balancing planes, over which the Wrights are suing, this machine has a leg of mutton arrangement on top of the plane.  This is made to work automatically so that as the machine swerves, the fin will be buoyed up by the air and bring the mechanism back to a lateral balance.

     New York Tribune, March 2, 1910, page 2 


Aeroplane Makes Flights

     Newburyport, Mass., April 17, – Over the marshes of Plum Island the Herring-Burgess aeroplane “Flying Fish”, made three successful flights to-day.  Arthur M. Herring of Hammondsport, N. Y. piloted the machine in the first flight.  After alighting easily at the river edge after a 250-yards run, the craft was turned over to W. Sterling Burgess, who made two short flights.

     The Salt Lake Tribune, (Utah), April 18, 1910, page 7  


Fins Used To Maintain Equilibrium

      Marblehead, Mass., May 21 – “I hope to flight through the air faster than any American has yet flown, including the Wright brothers,”  is the statement made by W. Starling Burgess, the millionaire yacht designer of this town who has been making flights with his partner, A. M. Herring, the former partner of Glenn Curtiss in their new bi-plane of their own design at Plum Island the past few days.  “I hope to travel a half mile in the air and by hour in this machine,”  says Mr. Burgess.  “Within a week I expect to  travel a half mile in the air and by the end of the month I expect to travel miles distance in the air at a stretch.”  

     Associated with Mr. Burgess and Mr. herring are Norman Prince, a well known young Boston millionaire, and Professor J. V. Martin, manager of the Harvard Aeronautical Society.  Mr. Martin has made flights in many French airships.

     The Herring-Burgess biplane is about the same size and somewhat like the Herring-Curtis machine, and much smaller than the Wright brothers machine.  One of the features of the machine is entirely different from any other machine and designed especially to avoid litigation with the Wrights.  To prevent it from tipping over it has eight overhead fins or sails, four near the center and two on each end.  They are shaped like a leg-o-mutton sail and are believed by Mr. Burgess to be a great improvement over all other devices to prevent tipping. Another feature is the use of skids or runners instead of wheels for making a rise into the air from the ground.  There are three of these, shaped like snow skids and have steel runners like an ordinary child’s sled. Mr. Burgess believes this to be a great improvement over the small wheel.  The machine complete weighs 408 pounds.  It is built of laminated spruce and is claimed to be stronger than any machine yet built.  It is 26 feet 8 inches wide and 29 feet long.  The control is by the right hand and right foot, and steering is done by a horizontal wheel with the left hand.  It has a 4-cylinder, 29 horsepower engine capable of developing 30-horsepower.

     The radiator is very light, being honeycombed.  Messrs Herring and Burgess have spend three years of experimenting with it.  The curves of the planes are different from the Herring – Curtiss machine and the angles of the wings steeper, with will allow the machine to rise earlier.  It will lift going at the rate of 26 miles an hour, while the Herring-Curtiss lifted at 37 miles an hour.  The wings are of strong silk, treated with celluloid and are airtight and gastight.  The skids allow a much more graceful landing than the wheel would.  As they slide along like skis, the jar will be broken.       

     “Of course,”  says Mr. Burgess, “the chief feature of this machine over all others of the series of fins overhead by which the operator can keep the machine from tipping.  These are an entirely new thing and are not used on any other machine.  I expect they will correct many of the present evils of flying.  We will make straight flights at first. We will not attempt any turns until later.”

     The machine is called the Flying Fish.  She is the first aeroplane to make any flights in New England.  

     The Daily Missoulian, (Montana), May 22, 1910

     The Flying Fish was later involved in three accidents during test flights at Plum Island, Massachusetts. The first occurred in late April, and the second about three weeks later on July 9, 1910, when Hungarian military aviator Lt. Alexander Pfitzner made a crash landing.  The plane was repaired, but crashed again on August 4, 1910, when William Bowman wrecked and was seriously injured. 

Newburyport, MA. April 22, 1910

Newburyport, MA. – July 9, 1910

Nweburyport, MA. – August 4, 1910

The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company – 1910

The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company – 1910 


Early c. 1910 postcard view of a Zodiac airship manufactured in France.

     The Zodiac Dirigible Airship Company was a business venture started by Rhode Island businessman Stuart Davis in 1910.  The idea was to establish an airship ferry service between Hazard’s Beach in Newport and Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, a distance of about eleven miles.  The city of Newport is located on the east side of Narragansett Bay, and the town of Narragansett is on the western shore.  In the early 1900s the only way to cross Narragansett Bay was by boat, for the Jamestown and Newport bridges did not exist.     

     The new airship company was incorporated to serve the needs of wealthy citizens who might wish to travel across Narragansett Bay by air rather than by boat.  The famous Narragansett Pier, located not far from Scarborough Beach, was a very popular resort area for the wealthy at that time, especially during the summer season.  Another popular destination was the now defunct Rocky Point Park, located on Narragansett Bay in Warwick, R.I.  It was also anticipated that excursions could be made to that destination as well.     

     The name Zodiac Dirigible Balloon Company was derived from the Zodiac balloons then being produced in France.  The Rhode Island company was incorporated in New York City.

     Mr. Davis announced his plans for an airship ferry service in June of 1910 which was exciting news for Rhode Island’s summer colonies.   On July 4th, Davis’s first Zodiac balloon arrived in New York from France aboard the steamship George Washington.  From there it was brought to Rhode Island to be assembled.  When completed, the airship would be 100 feet long, contain about 20,000 cubic feet of gas, and capable of carrying up to six passengers.  Being a dirigible meant that the balloon had no interior metal framework like a Zeppelin.  Therefore it would only fly on calm days. 

     The trip between Narragansett and Newport was estimated to take about an hour or less, and it was anticipated that the airship would make three or four trips per day.  While no rate fees had yet been established, it was reported that it would cost about five-hundred dollars to charter the aircraft for an entire afternoon – a great deal of money for the time.       

     Davis hoped that flight operations would begin by August, but in the meantime  preparations for housing the airship were being made at Scarborough where the company’s Rhode Island headquarters would be located.  The San Francisco Call reported on July 6th that the structure presently under construction would be 112 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 50 feet high.  When completed, it would reportedly be the first (commercial) airship station in America.  If successful, Davis’s venture would also be the first commercial airline in the country.  Plans for a second station in Newport were also underway.

     On July 31st, Davis’s airship, the Zodiac IV,  as it was now named, arrived in Narragansett to begin making test flights.  It was further reported that a second airship, the Zodiac III, was expected to arrive within the next seven to ten days and it too would begin test flights. Once the test flights were completed the airship(s) would begin passenger service. 

     Unfortunately, the test flights did not go well, and the whole venture was scrapped.   


      The Tacoma Times, (Wash.), “Airship Line Planned”, June 17, 1910 

     Daily capital Journal, (Salem, Ore.) “Flying Machine Service”, June 17, 1910

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, (Conn.), “Dirigible For Newport Class”, July 6, 1910 

     San Francisco Call, “Newport To Have Aerial Ferry Line”, July 6, 1910 

     Alexandria Gazette, (Alexandria, D.C.), “Dirigible Airship Line”, July 7, 1910 

     New York Tribune, “Newport’s Airship On Hand”, July 25, 1910

     The Times Dispatch, (Richmond, Va.) “Narragansett Has Airship”, August 1, 1910

     History Bytes: Airships In Newport, Newport Historical Society, R.I.


Charles Duryea’s Skycycle – 1893

Charles Duryea’s Skycycle – 1893

The Duryea "Skycycle" - 1893 Illustration - Phillipsburg Herald, April 13, 1893

The Duryea “Skycycle” – 1893

Illustration – Phillipsburg Herald, April 13, 1893

     Charles Edward Duryea (1861-1938) was an inventor in Springfield, Massachusetts, who was best known for building the first ever gasoline powered automobile -the Duryea – in 1898.  However, one of his lesser known inventions was his “Skycycle” – a human powered flying machine produced in 1893.

     The Skycycle consisted of a framework with canvas wings that measured about thirty feet from tip to tip.  A propeller mounted in the front was driven by a set of bicycle-type pedals operated by the pilot.  Steering was accomplished via a rudder mounted aft of the pilot, which could be turned by a set of handlebars.

     It was reported that the machine was “extremely simple” and “not costly to build”.  However, it is unknown if any of Duryea’s Skycycles were actually completed.


     Phillipsburg Herald, (Philipsburg, Kansas), “The Skycycle”, “A Massachusetts Yankee Thinks He Can Soar Aloft”, April 13, 1893

A Plan To Make Bobsleds Fly – 1910

A Plan To Make Bobsleds Fly – 1910

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner on November 22, 1910.  (Williams College is in Williamstown, Massachusetts.)

    Would Make Bobsleds Fly

Williams Students Will Fix Aeroplanes To Sides Of Long Crafts

     Boston, Nov. 22 – Leo Stevens the aeronaut, is enthusiastic over a plan of H. P. Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society, to attach wings to bobsleds and so teach students to fly.  

     There are some beautiful coasts several miles in length in the Berkshire Hills.  Mr. Shearman’s idea it to attach an aeroplane with flexible wings – a typical biplane minus the engine – to a bobsled, from which the planes can be controlled by the usual levers.

     “We shall take the sled to the top of a long hill and coast down,” said Shearman.  “Any one who has ever coasted in the Berkshires knows how fast we are likely to travel.  As soon as we are traveling about a mile a minute we shall tilt up the planes and the sled will leave the ground.  Then by manipulating the planes the sled can be kept a foot or so above the snow, just skimming the ground, until the bottom of the hill is reached.”

     “In this way the fellows in our society can learn how to handle the planes, and gain practical experience without undergoing the risk of operating a real aeroplane with an engine to propel it.”

Morok Aeroplane – Vermont State Fair – 1912

Morok Aeroplane – Vermont State Fair – 1912

The Bennington Evening Banner September 13, 1912

The Bennington Evening Banner

September 13, 1912

     In 1912 it was advertised in several Vermont newspapers that the “Morok Aeroplane”, flown by “Morok himself”, would appear at the Vermont State Fair in White River Junction, September 17 through the 20th.   

     “Morok” was Charles F. Morok, of 914 Eastern Parkway, New York City, also known as Lord Charles F. Morok, but this was only his professional name.  His was born Frank Van den Meersshe, or Meersche, or Merrsche, in Antwerp, Belgum, about 1877. (His name has been found to be spelled three different ways in newspapers and magazines.)

     Before entering the field of aviation in 1909, Mr. Morok was known as a dare-devil bicyclist and automobile stunt driver.

      In 1909 Mr. Morok reportedly flew over Rutland, Vermont, at an altitude of 3,000 feet.  

Middlebury Register September 6, 1912

Middlebury Register

September 6, 1912

     Mr. Morok owned an aircraft manufacturing company in Manhattan known as the Morok Aviation Company, (also referred to in the press as the Lord Morok Aeroplane Company), of which John W. Barry was the Director, and A. M. Moses the Treasurer.   

     Although there is some confusion on this issue, it seems the company may have produced aircraft of both the monoplane and biplane type.  The number of planes produced is unclear.    

    As stated, Charles Morok and his aeroplane were scheduled to appear at the Vermont State Fair beginning September 17th.  He’d also been scheduled to appear at the Caledonia County Fair in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, from September 10 through the 13th.   unfortunately, he never made it to either event.  On July 7th he contracted Typhoid Fever, and fought the disease until August 25th when he passed away at the age of 35.  He was survived by his wife, Natahlie, and is buried in Holy Trinity Cemetery in New York City.     

      Furthermore, an accident involving a Morok airplane occurred at an flying exhibition in Colonial Beach, Virginia, on August 21, 1912.  It’s unknown if this was the plane that was scheduled to be flown at the Vermont State Fair, or a different one, as Mr. Morok was ill with Typhoid Fever at this time.  The aircraft struck a fence and was completely wrecked, and the pilot, Joseph Richter, was injured.    

     Charles Morok was also scheduled to represent Belgium at the International Aviation Race at Chicago, scheduled for September 9th, 1912.


     Middlebury Register, Vermont State Fair Advertisement, September 6, 1912

     The Bennington Evening Banner, Vermont State Fair Advertisement, September 13, 1912

     Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Typhoid Kills Airman”, August 26, 1912

     Alexandria Gazette, (Virginia), “Biplane Wrecked”, August 21, 1912, Page 4  

     Aero And Hydro (Magazine) 1912, Volume 4, Page 522

     Further reading: New York Times, “Morok’s Aeroplane Interrupts Toilet”, December 27, 1910 

First U.S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

First U. S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

     On January 22, 1916, The Manufacturers Exhibition opened in New Haven, Connecticut.  One display that drew great interest was a model of a dirigible airship that had been constructed by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven; the first dirigible ever built for the United States Navy.    

     At the time of the exhibit, the airship was in a hangar at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, undergoing some final preparations before it would sail to Pensacola, Florida, to under go trials and testing.

     The initial order for the dirigible was placed May 14, 1915.  It was reported at that time that the ship would be constructed in New York, assembled in New Haven, Connecticut, and shipped for trials to the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Aeronautic Station, all under the supervision and guidance of the Connecticut Aircraft Company.     

     The model displayed at the exhibition was designed to be towed by a battleship traveling 25 miles per hour against a 15 mph wind to be utilized by lookouts, and spotters for directing ship’s fire during battle conditions.   Traditional balloons had proved to be problematic in this roll due to their lack of stability under these conditions which often resulted in seasickness for the observers.

     The completed dirigible was described as being be 175 feet long, 50 feet tall, and 35 feet in diameter. It would carry a crew of eight, and cost $45,636. 

     The balloon was built with inner compartments that divided the front from the back, either of which could be pumped full with regular air to displace the hydrogen gas so as to make one end of the ship heavier or lighter to aid in ascending or descending.    

     Government specifications required that the dirigible be capable of rising at the rate of 8 feet per second. 

     Fabric for the balloon was manufactured at the United States Rubber Company.   

     On March 13, 1917, with the United States now involved in World War I, contracts totaling $649,250 were awarded to four manufacturers to produce 16 additional dirigibles for the U.S. Navy. 

     The awards were as follows:

     Three dirigibles to be built by the Curtis Aeroplane Company in Buffalo, N.Y., for $122,250.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven, CT., for $84,000.

     Nine dirigibles to be built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, for $360,000.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the B. F. Goodrich company in Akron, Ohio, for $88,000.  

     During its tenure in business, the Connecticut Aircraft Company build 177 airships and balloons of various kinds.  In 1921 the company was acquired by a Delaware corporation known as the Aircraft-Construction Corporation, and continued to produce dirigible airships under that name. 

    Click here to view more articles pertaining to the Connecticut Aircraft Company. 


     The Sun, (NY) “First Dirigible For The U.S. Navy Will Be Constructed In New York”, May 16, 1915 

     Tulsa Daily World, (Okla.) “U. S. Navy’s New Air Ship Fleet”, August 8, 1915 

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Model Of First Dirigible Built For U. S. Is Shown”, January 23, 1916   

     The Chickasha Daily Express, (Okla.) April 1, 1916

     The East Oregonian, (Ore.) “U.S. Contracts For Sixteen Dirigibles”, March 14, 1917, (Daily Evening Edition, page 5.)

     The Bridgeport Times, (CT.) “Connecticut Aircraft Plane Will Be Operated By New Delaware Corporation”, September 1, 1921 

Harold Palmer’s Flying Machine – 1909

Harold Palmer’s Flying Machine – 1909

    Very little is known about Harold Palmer, other than he was the son of Ruben Tyler Palmer Jr. of 373 Pequot Avenue, New London, Connecticut.  

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Day, (Of New London, CT.), on November 29, 1909

     Harold Palmer Ready To Try His Flying Machine 

     “New London may have a young Wright or Curtis in its population, if a test programed for some day this week – possibly Tuesday – is successful.  The aviator is Harold Palmer of Pequot Avenue, this city, and the test, scheduled for some day this week, is to be a test of the capabilities of a flying machine which young Palmer has assembled after months of study and work.

     The airship was taken out on a wagon to the Niantic River, Waterford, a week ago Sunday as it was desired to have a sheet of water like the Niantic River over which to fly.  The ship was deposited on the John Brown place and ways were constructed.  From these ways the ship will be launched.

     The ascent will have to be quite abrupt as to get from the lot in which it is situated to the river it will be necessary to fly over telephone wires at quite a height.  The Niantic River was selected as the scene  of the trial as in event of the machine failing to fly and falling, the possibility of serious accident is minimized if water instead of land is beneath the airship and its occupant.

     Mr. Palmer has been interested in the subject of airships for some years.  Two or three years ago he started building an airship.  He was dissuaded by his father who purchased an automobile for the young man on the promise of his abandoning the plan of building a flying machine.

     He again took up the task and for months has been working at Hammond’s Ice House off Ocean Avenue. 

     All of the residents of the section of the country near the Niantic River are very much excited over the prospect of seeing an airship in flight or at least an attempt at flight.  They have faith, like the inventor, in the machine, and expect to see it soar skyward when the test is made.

     This airship is not the result of a few days heedless work, but represents many of the best ideas in aerial construction.  If it really flies Mr. Palmer and his friends will be much elated.

     Mr. Palmer is the son of Ruben Tyler Palmer, Jr., of Pequot Avenue.  He is in New York City and will return tonight.  He will then go to the Niantic River to prepare for the flight which, as can well be imagined, requires nerve.  Since his ship has been at the Niantic River Mr. Palmer has been staying at the home of Wilson N. Carroll, to be near at hand.”   

     Unfortunately, it was discovered that the engine installed in Mr. Palmer’s aircraft was too heavy, and not powerful to achieve flight, and it was announced that further testing would take place in the spring of 1910. 

     No further information has been found as of this posting.


     The Day, “Harold Palmer Ready To Try His Flying Machine”, November 29, 1909      

     The Day, “Some Sentences By The Judge”, (A local history column of long ago news events.), January 9, 1960

John Murphy’s Aeroplane, Bridgeport, CT. – 1911

John Murphy’s Aeroplane, Bridgeport, Connecticut – 1911

     Little information is known about this project. 

     In June of 1911 it was announced in the Norwich Bulletin that John Murphy, of 279 Brook Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut, was in the process of building an “aeroplane” at the factory of Topping & Kerr, at 44 Union Square.

     The aircraft was described as “huge” and when completed would be capable of carrying four people.  The number of occupants was significant because “aeroplanes” of this era generally carried only one or two persons.

     The aircraft was said to contain a number of “unique features” all of which had been patented in the United States, and other countries where patient treaties are recognized.   It was felt that the new aircraft, which was to be powered by two 75-horse-power engines, would beat existing records for speed, size, safety, and endurance. 

     Funding for the project was arranged by Congressman James H. McDermott of Chicago. 

     In 1911 there was a standing offer of $50,000 in prize money from newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst that would be given to the first aviator to make a transcontinental flight across America in less than thirty days from start to finish.  It didn’t matter if the pilot flew from east to west, or west to east.  Mr. Murphy hoped to use his aircraft to fly from New York to San Francisco to claim the money, which was a massive sum in 1911.  

     On July 16, 1911, Mr. Murphy brought sections of his Murphy-McDermott, Curtis style, aeroplane to what became known as the “Aeroplane Field” on Milford Turnpike in the town of Milford, Connecticut, for further testing and assembly.  (Some parts had yet to be manufactured and delivered.)  Numerous spectators made their way the area to watch.  Several tents had been erected to house he and his assistants, and another to serve as a hangar.  Although many showed up to see what was going on, no flight tests were made.

     On August 12, 1911, it was announced that a large force of workmen would begin to assemble what was now termed the McDermott-Murphy Aeroplane at the aviation field in Milford.  The public was welcome to come and observe and inspect the machine, and workmen were advised to answer any questions about the assembly process.

     Instructions to get to the field were posted in the newspaper as follows: “…leave the trolley car at Beard’s Corner and take Beach Road.  Signs point to the aviation field which is very easy to find.” 

     The outcome of Mr. Murphy’s project is unknown, but more research is needed.  However, he wasn’t the first to make a transcontinental flight across America.  That honor belongs to Carlbraith Perry Rodgers, who made the trip from September 17, 1911, to November 5, 1911.  


     Norwich Bulletin, “Big Aeroplane” – “Being Constructed In Bridgeport Backed By Unlimited Capital”, June 20, 1911, Page 4 

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Crowds Watch Aero tests In Milford”, July 17, 1911

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Assembling Of Big Aeroplane Starts Monday”, August 12, 1911.

     Wikipedia-Carlbraith Perry Rodgers

Mr. Gracier’s Aeroplane, Darien, CT. – 1911

Mr. Gracier’s Aeroplane, Darien, CT. – 1911

     The following brief news snippet was found in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, dated March 8, 1911.  No further details are known as of this posting.

     Noroton Heights is part of the town of Darien, Connecticut.

Building A Biplane 

     “Mr. Gracier, chauffeur for Anson Phelps Stokes is building a biplane flying machine in Noroton Heights.  The work will probably be completed before spring is over.  The machine is a 25-foot biplane resembling a Wright model and is being constructed entirely by Mr. Gracier.  It is to have a high powered motor.  Mr. Gracier expects to make his trail flights in Noroton Heights.”

     Source: The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Building A Biplane”, March 8, 1911, page 7

Dickerman’s Flying Machine – 1897

Dickerman’s Flying Machine – 1897

     The following story appeared in The Abbeville Press And Banner, a defunct newspaper from Abbeville, South Carolina, (1869 – 1924).  It reportedly happened to a farmer named Dickerman from Woodbridge, Connecticut.  The farmer’s first name was not stated, and validity of this tale is left to the discretion of the reader.  

     Besides being a farmer, Mr. Dickerman was also an inventor of air ships.  “A few years ago,” the article read in part, “his attempt to navigate a machine he had built to fly resulted in injuries to the inventor that laid him up for six weeks with a broken limb.” 

     Yet apparently Mr. Dickerman was undaunted by his mishap and decided to try again. 

     In May of 1897, Dickerman allegedly bought a “wagon body and an electric battery storage system”.  The batteries were to power an electric motor, which would power an air compressor, that was supposed to shoot a powerful steady stream of compressed air into a canvas umbrella rigged above the wagon.  The flow of compressed air would supposedly keep the entire contraption suspended in mid-air – at least as long as the batteries held out.  The compressed air would also drive two side wheels made of discarded windmill blades which would serve to propel the flying machine forward.  

     The article explained; “Dickerman bought up all the windmill arms he could find and attached them to the outside of the wagon body, which he had propped up on the top of his barn.  Cog wheels connected to the shaft of each with a rod that was to be turned by means of the electric motor.”

     It was stated that Mr. Dickerman planned to fly his invention all the way to Cuba which he estimated would take less than a day, but he’d provisioned his wagon with enough food stores to last a week.  Among his provisions were a can-opener and a feather pillow.

     The reason for Mr. Dickerman’s Cuba destination was to assist that country in its war for independence – a war which had begun in 1895.  (This conflict later became the Spanish-American War for the United States with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in 1898.)     

     To get his invention ready for its inaugural flight Mr. Dickerman, with the help of a hired-hand identified only as “Mike”, and “half a dozen of Dickerman’s cronies”, somehow got the flying machine  atop the roof of his barn.  Then Mr. Dickerman climbed in and sat in a rocking chair he’d installed so that he’d be comfortable during his voyage, and then started the motor.  After giving the signal, “Mike” and the “cronies” gave the craft a mighty shove and Dickerman’s air ship sailed off the edge of the roof with predictable results. 

      The article ended with, “Dickerman is at present under the doctor’s care.  His faith in his invention still lives, and he says he will yet fly.” 

     Authors note: No accounts of this alleged incident appeared in Woodbridge area newspapers. 


     The Abbeville Press And Banner, (Abeville, South Carolina), “Modern Darius Green” – “A Foolish Connecticut Farmer And His Flying Machine” April 21, 1897 

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Click on image to enlarge

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Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     The following brief article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, on March 7, 1911.  The man in the story, Daniel Mackney, lived on Colonial Ave. in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Boy Of 19 Has Novel Plan For Flying Machine 

     “Daniel Mackney, 19, who lives on Colonial Avenue, believes he has solved the problem of aerial navigation, and he will seek an opportunity to present his sketches and possibly a small model of his aeroplane to the Aero Club of Connecticut at its next meeting.

     Mr. Mackney’s plan calls for a machine with four planes driven by a propeller of 12 angles.  The lifting power is to come from air forced by the engine until it impacts against the planes from the underside.  The sketch also shows a novel form of brake, useful for holding the plane in position before it is ready to start, thus dispensing with the services of the four or five men now used to hold some machines back until things are ready for the flight.” 


The Mystery Of Candlewood Mountain – 1897

The Mystery Of Candlewood Mountain – 1897

     Candlewood Mountain is located in the town of New Milford, Connecticut, and is 971 feet tall.  

     The following newspaper article appeared in the Kansas City Journal, (Kansas City, Mo.), on November 19, 1897, Page 6.  It speaks of a three-year-old mystery associated with Candlewood Mountain, but doesn’t elaborate as to what the mystery was.  Presumably, the mystery had something to do with a bird-like flying machine allegedly shot at by a hunter.  Is this story based in fact, or fantasy?  The reader can decide.


Connecticut Hunter Runs Across Unexpected Game – Mystery Of Bewitched Mountain Explained 

    “The Mystery of Candlewood Mountain, which has puzzled the residents of New Milford, Conn. for more than three years has been solved.

     Some said the mountain was bewitched.  During these three years Fredrick T. Buck, of New Milford, has periodically disappeared.  Somehow people began to associate him with the mystery of Candlewood Mountain.  Sometimes Buck would appear in surrounding towns with a companion who talked and looked like a foreigner.  They would come into town with a team and make purchase of provisions, also wire, rope, canvas, chains, cog wheels, bars of steel, whalebone, electric supplies, gas stoves, and umbrellas.

     Two weeks ago Walter A. Logan of New Milford, who hunts with a telescope rifle instead of a shotgun, broke his telescope.  He sent it to a Bridgeport optician to be repaired.  By some misunderstanding, the optician affixed a lens five times stronger than the original one.

     Yesterday Logan was part way up Candlewood Mountain after partridge and quail.  Through his telescope he picked out some game, but when he fired he missed.  He kept on up the mountain and turned his telescope in all directions.  Suddenly he saw a monster flapping its wings.

     “Now,” said Logan, “I guess I can hit that.  It’s big enough.”

     So he pulled the trigger and expected to see the aerial monster show signs of pain.  Instead, it kept on flapping its wings.  He kept up a running fire for some time.   At last he saw through his telescope that the animated monster was held down by chains.

     Logan climbed on up and came upon a hut and shed nearby, in which were a grindstone and various mechanical tools.  Not far from the shed were several trees sawed off, and to the stumps were attached chains.  These fastenings led up to the flapping affair, which proved to be a flying machine.  Buck was standing on the ground, and in the machine was the foreigner.

     Buck was dismayed by Logan’s appearance.  He offered him all sorts of inducements to keep quiet.  Logan, however, could not keep the secret, and as soon as he got back to New Milford told his wife.  In less than an hour half of New Milford heard the news.”     

     One would think that such a tale would have been carried in numerous newspapers at the time, but this does not appear to be the case.  Furthermore, it could be surmised that if the story was published in a Kansas newspaper, it certainly would have been carried in local newspapers in the New Milford, Connecticut, area.  The New Milford Public Library has a newspaper microfilm collection which includes newspapers from 1897, yet no mention of this incident could be found.  The New Milford Historical Society doesn’t have anything about the incident in their archives either.  

     Considering the facts as presented in the newspaper article, certain questions arise.  For example, why was the “monster flapping its wings” being held earthbound by chains?  And why didn’t the “pilot” land immediately when the shooting started?  Furthermore, upon hearing about such a machine, it seems logical that half the citizens of New Milford would have made their way up the mountain to see this remarkable sight. 

    And finally, although there is no known connection, this story of Candlewood Mountain was published several weeks after a famous Connecticut inventor, Gustave Whitehead, gave a public exhibition of his flying machine in New Jersey.  Whitehead’s machine was called “The Condor”, and some-what resembled a bird.  Some newspapers even published illustrations of Whitehead’s invention.

     Newspaper reports of Whitehead’s exhibition include:

     New York Times, “New Airship Ready For Flight” – “Modeled After A Condor Called A Sure Thing”, October 6, 1897

     The World, “Will Try His Airship” -“Whitehead, An Old Maker Of Such Craft, Is The Inventor”, October 6, 1897

     New York Press, “Whitehead’s Flying Condor” – “Ambitious Designer Says He Will Imitate The Flight Of The Great Bird In The Air”, October 6, 1897

     New York Herald, “Whitehead’s Airship”, October 6, 1897

     Quincy Morning Whig, “Hopes To Fly Like A Condor”, October 7, 1897

     Other sources:

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Captain John Taggart’s Flying Machine – 1850

Captain John Taggart’s Flying Machine – 1850

Advertisement from the New York Daily Tribune October 29, 1850

Advertisement from the

New York Daily Tribune

October 29, 1850

      Very little is known about John Taggart other than he was a “flying machine” inventor from Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the mid 1800s.  How he came to the title of Captain is also unknown.  Was he a former military man, or was it an honorary title bestowed upon him the way other aeronauts were often referred to as “professor”?

     One newspaper account that was reprinted in dozens of papers, described the “flying machine” as follows: “The flying machine consists of a car, to the front of which is attached a pair of wings, somewhat like the screws used by propellers, and a float or balloon fastened to the car in the ordinary way, at an elevation of six or eight feet.  The wings, which may be moved in any direction so as to assist in the ascent or descent of the machine, are put in motion by turning a small axle running through the center of the car.  The machine may be guided in any direction by means of a rudder, the slightest variation of which it obeys with wonderful precision.

     The float or balloon, which is pear-shaped, is thirty-three feet nine inches in height, having a diameter of some twelve feet, and the whole weight of the machine, when ready for ascension, is three hundred and fifty pounds; in addition to which it will carry with ease over one thousand pounds.”   

     Captain Taggart’s flying machine made its inaugural flight from the town common in Lowell, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1850, before a large crowd which had gathered to watch the ascension.  On the first attempt to take off, the balloon only rose 15 to 20 feet before it suddenly dropped back to earth.  The loss or lack of buoyancy was blamed on an improper inflation of the balloon, which had allowed steam to mix with the gas, causing water vapor to condense inside.

     Once the problem was corrected, a second attempt was made, but this time Mr. Taggart elevated the wings above the car to give it better lift.  The adjustment worked, and a successful take-off was accomplished at 4 p.m.  From Lowell, Taggart reportedly flew over the towns of Dracut, Tewksbury, Haverhill, Reading, Andover, Danvers, Ipswich, Georgetown, Lawrence, Methuen, “and others”.   

     On the way back to Lowell he had mechanical difficulties with some gearing which forced him to land prematurely.  The entire flight, it was said, took one-and-a-half hours and covered about 75 miles.  

     Mr. Taggart brought his invention to New York City where he displayed it at the Dunlap Hotel at 135 Fulton Street.      

     On October 30, 1859, Mr. Taggart was scheduled to give a demonstration of his flying machine, where he would ascend from a bridge that spanned a canal at the Thatched Cottage Garden in Jersey City, New Jersey.   Five thousand seats had been set out for the event, at a price of 50 cents each.  Those wishing to stand only had to pay 25 cents. 

     Taggart’s first attempt at lift-off resulted in the machine dropping into the canal.   It was quickly recovered and prepared for another try however, misfortune continued.   As more gas was added to the balloon to increase buoyancy, it began to tug at the ropes held by assistants charged with keeping the flying machine earth bound until the proper time.  As the pull on the ropes increased, the men suddenly began to let go fearing they would be carried away.  As one might expect, the balloon/flying machine shot skyward with nobody aboard to control it.  It continued to rise until air currents began sending it eastward and it disappeared from view. 

     Fortunately, the crowds weren’t upset with the unexpected development, for they had still witnessed the machine take flight.    

     The unmanned balloon/flying machine traveled across Manhattan Island, and then over Long Island, where it came down later that evening in the town of Huntington, near the home of Jonathan Giddersleeve, and got hung up on a fence.  Mr. Giddersleeve and others attempted to retrieve it by cutting a small hole in the bottom of the balloon to release the gas not realizing it was flammable.  The fumes drifted and were suddenly ignited by a nearby lantern which set off a violent explosion that burned Giddersleeve and his son, and threw others to the ground.  The resulting fire destroyed Taggert’s flying machine.    


     Sunbury American, (Sunbury, Pa.) “Capt. Taggart’s Patent Flying Machine”, July 13, 1850

     The Daily Union, (Washington, DC) “Flying Machine”, October 12, 1850

     The North Carolinian, (Fayetteville, NC) “Flying Machine”, October 19, 1850 

     New York Daily Tribune, Advertisement for Taggart’s ascension from Jersey City, NJ, October 29, 1850

     Southern Sentinel, (Iberville, La.) November 9, 1850

     Vermont Watchman, (Montpelier, Vt.) “The Flying Machine”, November 14, 1850

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

     Charles Francis Ritchel was born in Portland, Maine, on December 22, 1844, and died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on January 21, 1911.  (At times his last name has been misspelled in the press as “Ritchell”, (two “ls”), and as “Richel”.)

     Professor Ritchel was a talented inventor with many patients to his credit.  Around 1870 he became interested in developing a flying machine that could travel the sky in any direction despite wind currents.  In Ritchel’s day, the only way to “fly” was in a balloon, but balloons were at the mercy of prevailing winds, updrafts, and down drafts, and in places like New England the possibility of being blown out to sea was certainly a concern.

     In November of 1876 Ritchel moved from Corry, Pennsylvania, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to begin development of his flying machine. 

    By March of 1878 his first airship was nearing completion.  (It is said he eventually built five.) The final work was being done in the large hallway of the Riverside Hotel in East Bridgeport, and the project had reportedly caught the attention of famous circus owner and showman, P.T. Barnum. 

     Ritchel’s flying machine was of a dirigible type, with propellers that controlled upward and downward motion, and allowed for steering in the air.  The machine had no motors, and motion of the propellers was achieved by the pilot operating a series of cranks and levers utilizing his own muscle power.  The gas cylinder or envelope was described as being made of black silk, 24 feet long, and 12 feet in diameter, holding 3,000 square feet of gas.     

     By the spring of 1878 he’d completed construction, and on May 8th, gave a successful indoor exhibition of his new invention in one of the Centennial Exposition buildings in Philadelphia.    

      On May 25, 1878, a Maryland newspaper, The Democratic Advocate, had this to say: “After Edison’s speaking phonograph, what then?  Why Professor Ritchel’s wonderful flying machine, in Philadelphia, which sails gracefully through the Exhibition building, up, down, or whichever way you will, applauded by a large crowd of visitors.  A little while and the air ship will glide gracefully through the atmosphere at the rate of sixty miles an hour. We may then strike a bee line over mountains, rivers and oceans, for any desirable point, leaving such lumbering things as railroads and steamers, with the “slow coach” of the period before steam and railroads put them out of use.”       

     After Philadelphia, Ritchel exhibited his flying machine at a hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Among those invited to attend were members of the Franklin Institute, and others of the scientific community.   

     The following newspaper account relating to the Bridgeport exhibition is from The Charlotte Democrat, dated June 14, 1878.

   New Flying Machine 

      “Unlike many aerial machines, this one is not shaped like a bird, nor has it any wings.  It consists of a large bag of cylindrical form inflated with hydrogen, and a car provided with attachment designed to control the elevation and descent of the bag and to direct its course.  The bag is 24 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, and requires 3,000 feet of gas for its inflation. The rising and steering apparatus underneath has a framework made of brass tubing, and is provided with a seat for the passenger.  Directly in front of the seat is a crank which he turns to produce the power that puts in motion two small fans that can be operated singly or together.  The elevating fan has five blades, set spirally, and can be made to rotate at the rate of 3,000 revolutions per minute.  This fan furnishes, or is intended to furnish, the lifting power which constitutes the novelty and value of the invention, and by reversing the motion depresses the air ship on the same principle as it raises it.  At the end of the framework of the car, some 10 or 12 feet distant from the passenger, is another similar fan, which works at an angle with the air ship, and is designed to turn it any direction desired.  It may be stated that both fans work in the air on the same principle that the Fowler steering and propelling apparatus works in the water.  The exhibition was given in a large hall, a boy operating the cranks.  The boy commenced to turn the crank, the fan whizzed fiercely, and the bag rose three or four feet from the floor.  It refused to go any higher, however, but after ascending slightly sank back toward the floor at each trial.  Then the steering fan was set in motion, with about the same degree of success. The attendants ascribing the partial failure of the experiments to the boy who engineered the machine, another boy was substituted. He succeeded considerably better than the first, elevating the bag to the ceiling several times, and had turned it about half way around with the steering fan when two of the blades broke.  The experiment led to the opinion that, with some changes in the fan, the machine might be made to perform as intended.  As is well known, one great difficulty in balloon navigation is that the aeronaut is dependent for his elevation on the buoyancy of the balloon alone; another is that its course is dependent on the direction of the wind.  Mr. Ritchell thinks that his apparatus can be made to overcome both these difficulties. – Iron Age.”       

     It’s likely that the Bridgeport exhibition described above occurred early in the month of June, or even late May, given the publication date of  June 14, 1878 in a southern newspaper.   

     Apparently any problems with the propellers were corrected, for on June 29, 1878, the Scientific American reported that Ritchel’s invention had made a successful open-air trail flight in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12th.  The Scientific American reported in part: “The first open air exhibition of Professor C. F. Ritchel’s flying machine was conducted at Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday afternoon, June 12.” (1878)    

     A large crowd had watched as the air ship ascended from a ball field near the Colt Armory and attain an altitude of 250 feet before sailing off over the Connecticut River.  It was reported that the pilot demonstrated that he could control the height and direction of the aircraft at will.   

     One account of the historic flight was recounted in the Marshall County Republican, on July 18, 1878.  

     The article stated in part:

     “When he ascended there was but little wind blowing, and the machine appeared under perfect control, but gradually a breeze sprang up, and it was deemed safest to make a speedy return, as there were indications in the sky of a gathering storm.  The machine turned and made its way back in the teeth of the wind until it was directly over the ball ground it had ascended from and there alighted only a few feet from the place of its departure.”

     As a point of fact, Professor Ritchel’s flying machine made two flights at Hartford – the second on the following day, June 13th.  

     The Marshall County Republican article continued:

     “On the second trial, some time was spent in getting the weight and lifting power so neatly balanced as to show that the machine had a lifting power of its own.  When this had been effected to Prof. Ritchel’s satisfaction, the apparatus rested quietly upon the grass, but could be lifted or set back with a light pressure of a finger.  When the word was given to “Go!” the operator, Quinlan, weighing 96 pounds, began turning the wheel, the horizontal fan revolved with a noise like a buzz saw, and the machine darted up almost vertically to a height of about two hundred feet.  There a strong, steady wind setting toward the southwest was encountered, and the machine was swept broadside on to the spectators. Then the operator was seen throwing his vertical fan into gear, and by it said the aerial ship turned around, pointing its head in whatever direction he chose to have it.  All this was the work of a few seconds.  Although Quinlan could move the apparatus about, he could not make any headway against the strong wind. “

     (“The operator, Quinlan”, referred to in the above passage was Mark Quinlan, who reportedly weighed less than 100 pounds.)  

     The wind pushed the machine towards the town of New Haven and observers lost sight of it after it went over a hill.  After struggling in the wind for about an hour, Quinlan landed in Newington, Connecticut, and waited until the winds died down before taking off again and returning to Hartford at 10 p.m. 

     From Hartford, the professor brought his machine to Boston where on July 4, 1878, he flew it for one hour and twenty minutes in a wind that was blowing 18 to 20 miles per hour.  A few days later on July 13th, an illustration of Ritchel in his flying machine appeared on the cover of Harpers Weekly magazine. 

    In September of 1878 Ritchell again brought his invention to Boston, and this time exhibited it inside the Tremont Temple.  A reporter wrote the following as he described the scene: “A strong light in front of a large reflector in the gallery made the hall lighter that I had ever seen it, and threw upon the wall the shadow of the machine, making a most uncanny picture.” 

      The flying machine was described in the newspapers as being “a frame of brass tubes and nickel plated pipes and rods, shaped something like a boat, and is hung to a tube which is supported beneath a huge cylindrical bag, twenty-five feet long, and some ten or twelve (feet) in diameter.”  It also contained a series of gears, shifts, and clutches, which made it “as pretty as a watch.” 

     “The machine is certainly a success,” the article stated, “but if it were not it would still be worth looking at and admiring for its beauty, and for the singular ingenuity displayed in planning and building it.”

     The gas bag was said to be made of rubber coated “zephyr cloth” capable of holding 2,200 square feet of hydrogen gas.  This contradicted earlier reports that the dirigible held 3,000 square feet of gas, but this may have been a different, or improved gas bag. 

     The machine could navigate the air by two sets of multi-blade fans, one positioned under the pilot’s seat to raise or lower the craft, and the second at the front of the aircraft to propel it forward or backwards or steer in one direction or another. 

     The fans were reportedly made of white Holly, each blade having about 50 square inches of surface, and capable of making 2,000 to 2,800 revolutions per minute.  The fans were powered by the operator manually turning hand-cranks and steering with his feet, without the aid of any mechanical engine. 

     As to speed performance, the article stated, “The best speed yet attained is ten miles in thirty minutes with the wind, but in a calm, seven miles an hour is as much as can be doe comfortable. Direct progress cannot be made against a wind more than seven miles an hour, but by tacking he had made four miles in less than two hours.” 

     The total weight of the machine, not counting the operator, was said to be 115 pounds.         

     The following year Professor Ritchell apparently constructed another flying machine as evidenced by the following newspaper article that appeared in the Helena Weekly Herald, on July 24, 1879. (Originally published in the New Haven Paladium)

     A New Flying Machine

     “Professor C. F. Ritchell of Bridgeport is constructing a flying machine which he is to use at Coney Island.  The India-rubber gas cylinder is being made at the Naugatuck glove shop.  This is slightly elliptical in shape, is forty-five feet three inches length, and about forty-three feet in circumference.  The cylinder is to be inflated with hydrogen gas and will have a sustaining capacity adequate to support the machinery necessary to operate the car, and two med additional , lacking about one pound weight.  The whole structure is thus almost upon a poise.  Still it will not rise except by operating the paddles or “rings” necessary for that purpose.  Its propelling agencies are so nicely constructed that the car may be raised or lowered, moved forward or backward, propelled in a circle, at the will of the operator. It is a very ingenious affair throughout and throws other machines of the sort into the background.”

     What is significant about Professor Ritchel’s invention is that it worked, and his flying machine demonstration in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12, 1878, was said to be the first successful dirigible flight ever achieved in the state.  However, within a few years Professor Ritchel’s accomplishment was apparently forgotten, for a small news item that appeared in The Sun, (a New York newspaper) in 1909 stated the following: “Capt. Thomas S. Baldwin, an aeronaut, furnished Norwich with a new sensation this afternoon when he flew five miles in his dirigible balloon.  It was the first dirigible that ever flew over the state of Connecticut.” 

     Professor Charles F. Ritchel is buried in Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Plot 46A, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  


     Scientific American, June 29, 1878, page 405      

     Helena Weekly Herald, (Helena, Mont.) “A New Flying Machine”, July 24, 1879

     The Anderson Intelligencer, (South Carolina), “Navigation In The Air”, March 28, 1878

     The Democratic Advocate, (Westminster, Md.), (No headline) May 25, 1878.  

     The Charlotte Democrat, (Charlotte, N.C.) “New Flying Machine”, June 14, 1878

     The Canton Advocate, ( Canton S.D.) “A Flying Machine”, June 18, 1878

     Marshall County Republican, (Plymouth, Ind.) “A Successful Flying Machine”, July 18, 1878

     The Home Journal, (Winchester, Tenn.) general items, August 1, 1878

     The Vancouver Independent, (Vancouver, Washington) “The New Flying Machine”, September 12, 1878

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Taft On Freedom’s Growth” (His visit to Norwich), July 6, 1909, page 2

     Book- “High Frontier: A History Of Aeronautics In Pennsylvania”, by William F. Trimble, University Of Pittsburgh Press, Copyright 1982  

     Wikipedia – Prof. Charles F. Ritchel, Memorial # 147446540

Rufus Porter’s “Aeroport” Airship – 1853

Rufus Porter’s “Aeroport” Airship – 1853

Click on images to enlarge.

Rufus Porter's "Power Balloon" From a September 20, 1908 newspaper illustration of The Evening Star, of Washington, D.C.

Rufus Porter’s “Power Balloon”
From a September 20, 1908 newspaper illustration of The Evening Star, of Washington, D.C.

     Rufus Porter was a 19th century New England inventor, publisher, and artist, who some might say was a man well ahead of his time when it came to aeronautical thinking.   

     Born May 1, 1792, in West Boxford, Massachusetts, Porter received little in the way of formal education, but he possessed a brilliant and creative mind.    

     As an artist he painted mural scenes on the walls of many New England homes, and some of these murals survive today. 

     One of his publications included the New York Mechanic, which was described in the Vermont Telegraph in 1841 as being, “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and other Scientific Improvements.”  It was published weekly at 7 Ann St., New York City.  Others included the American Mechanic, and Scientific American, two magazines aimed at those interested in the latest technology of the day.     

     Mr. Porter was very interested in all things mechanical, and is credited with many inventions, but perhaps his most intriguing was his “Aeroport”, a steam-powered airship that he began to develop in the early 1830s.   The “Aeroport” has also been referred to by other names such as “Aerial Steamer”, “Aero-locomotive”, and “Power Balloon”, but the press commonly referred to it as an “Aeroport”.     

An Early Balloon

An Early Balloon

     The field of aviation was relatively new in Porter’s day.  The first manned balloon ascension had taken place in France in 1783, and the first balloon flight in America had followed ten years later in 1793, about eight months after Porter was born.  Forty years later balloon technology  hadn’t changed much, and once aloft, aeronauts were still at the mercy of the prevailing winds with no means to control the craft’s direction other than up or down.  Porter wanted to change that by designing a flying machine that could land and take off with ease, and be under the control of a pilot who could direct the ship in any desired direction despite wind currents. 

     Another drawback of balloons of the day was that they could only carry one or two persons, but Porter envisioned an air ship that could transport many people at once, much like a modern-day airliner.  His futuristic thinking was ridiculed by those who thought such aerial navigation impossible, yet others found it intriguing, for there had once been a time when sailing across the world’s oceans was thought to be impossible.         

     Porter’s proposed airship was to be 160 feet long, and designed to carry passengers in an enclosed compartment called the “saloon” slung beneath the gas-envelope.  It was to be powered by steam engines which would spin huge propellers that would push it through the air at speeds faster than any known ships or trains.  And for safety sake, the engines and boiler were to be installed in such a way that they could be immediately dropped away should an emergency arise.  

     Over the years Porter built several working models of his proposed airship, which he used to demonstrate the fesability of his project.  The first of these models was completed in 1833, when Porter was in his early 40s.

     In 1849 Rufus Porter authored a publication titled Aerial Navigation: The Practicability Of Traveling Plesantly And Safely From New York To California In Three Days, Fully Demonstrated.   In it, he explained how such a feat could be accomplished with his proposed air ship that he envisioned capable of carrying between fifty to one-hundred passengers at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, making a round trip from New York to California’s “Gold Region” in only seven days.  This was a remarkable claim in an era when the fastest ships took weeks to make the journey.

     In 1850 Porter went to New York and Boston to exhibit a working model of his invention. One newspaper reported, “Mr. Porter’s ‘flying machine did all that it promised on Wednesday evening.  It rose above the audience and went around the hall exactly as he said it would, and the spectators gave three cheers for the successful experiment.”  

     The model was then demonstrated at the Merchant’s Exchange in New York where it circled the rotunda eleven times.

       In 1851 Porter established the Aerial Navigation Company which offered investors the chance to purchase shares in his “Aeroport” which he was convinced would be extremely profitable once completed and put into operation.       

Rufus Porter's Dirigible Airship of 1850 Note the word "Aeroport" on the side of the ship. Illustration from The New York Sun November 23, 1913

Rufus Porter’s Dirigible Airship of 1850
Note the word “Aeroport” on the side of the ship.
Illustration from The New York Sun
November 23, 1913

     In March of 1852 he wrote an open letter to the public looking for investors which was published in the Daily American Telegraph in Washington, D.C., where he had established his residence.  Porter offered potential investors the chance to turn a five-dollar investment into a cash income $20 per week for twenty years.  That translates into a potential return of $20, 800 – a huge sum of money even today.

     The letter stated as follows:

     “The Flying Ship – A chance to secure a cash income of $10 to $20 per week for twenty years, by the investment of five dollars in advance.

     It is extensively known that the undersigned has by the theory and practical experiments so fully demonstrated the practicability of aerial navigation that all who have duly examined the subject are convinced; and no person, even of those whose interests are adverse to its success, can offer a word of rational argument against it.  Several model machines have been constructed, and each of them has operated successfully; and one of them , sixteen feet long, carried a small steam engine, by the power of which the machine was propelled, and, being guided by its own helm, traveled rapidly through the air, even against a breeze of wind, in direct lines or circles, according to the adjustment of its helm.  This machine was witnessed and applauded by hundreds in New York and Boston, and notices thereof were published in several newspapers of those cities at the time.  Since those experiments were made, the inventor has made additional improvements, whereby the invention is now perfected.  And it appears certain that a safe and durable aerial ship, (or aeroport,) capable of carrying one hundred and fifty passengers at a speed of ninety miles an hour, with more perfect safety than either steamboats or railroad cars, may be constructed for $15,000, and that the expense of running it will not exceed $25 per day.  This Aeroport will make the trip to California or to Europe in two days, and will be patronized with abundance of business (more that 50,000 persons are now ready to engage passages) at $200 per passage, which will amount to $30,000 per trip, each way; or $60,000 per week, besides $4,000 for carrying mails.  If this aeroport is owned in shares of $5 each, a single share will produce an income of $20 per week. 

     It is ascertained, by a minute and careful estimate, that an aeroport 150 feet long and capable of carrying five persons at a speed of sixty miles per hour, may be constructed for $1,500.  Now, having been disappointed of the funds requisite to put this invention in operation on a scale of practical utility, I propose that if three hundred persons will subscribe five dollars each, payable when the whole amount of $1,500 shall have been subscribed, I will forthwith construct this pioneer aeroport, (which may be done in six weeks;) and when this is put in operation, I can readily command the requisite funds for constructing a large aeroport, as above mentioned.  And I will so arrange that each subscriber, on the payment of the said sum of five dollars, shall be furnished with a regular title-deed, which shall entitle th eholder thereof to one three-hundredth part of this first aeroport, and also to one three-hundredth part of the first large aeroprt that shall be constructed, and of all benefits and emoluments that may be derived therefrom for twenty years; the said aeroport to be kept in repair without expense to the shareholders.  Subscribers will not be restricted to single shares, but each may hold as many as he is disposed to subscribe for at first; and will receive dividends accordingly, which, according to the forgoing estimate, will be $20 per week on each share, payable weekly or monthly.  Subscribers may send their names to my address by mail (prepaid) and the same will be duly entered on the subscription book, (which already contains about fifty names of subscribers in this city,) and notice will be sent (prepaid) to each when the three hundred shares shall have been taken; and the money may be sent either to me or to the firm of Selden, Withers & Co., (well known bankers of this city,) who will, on the receiptthereof, forward to each subscriber a title-deed, as above stipulated, and will act as treasurers for the shareholders, and transfer the money to me as the progress of the work requires.  Each subscriber will be furnished semi-monthly with a printed news-letter, reporting the progress of the work.

     Editors or publishers of newspapers who will give the forgoing prospectus an insertion within three weeks, and send a copy thereof to the undersigned, shall be entitled to one share in the large aeroport, and be furnished with a title-deed or five dollars in cash forthwith.”

     Rufus Porter, Washington, March 16, 1852

     “P.S. – It is confidently believed that by this invention unexplored regions may be examined, and the light of civilization and Christianity may be disseminated through benighted lands with faculty; and that the world will honor the names of those who now subscribe to aid the introduction of an invention calculated to confer immense benefits upon the entire human race.”       

     Not long afterwards Mr. Porter began building his “Aeroport” .  Unfortunately, throughout the entire construction process, Porter was plagued by bad luck, skeptcisim, ridicule, obstruction, and even vandalism.             

     On August 12, 1852, the Jeffersonian Republican of Stroudsburg, Penn. reported the following: “Rufus Porter, who is building a flying ship at Washington, in his semi monthly report to the stockholders, says: – “The fibrous material for the float and the saloon has all been varnished, and the sewing and making up the float are now in progress, and we may have it ready for inflation in two weeks.  The frame work of the saloon, and the longitudinal rods for the float, are ready to be set up.  The engine and boilers are only waiting for the furnace”

        By the beginning of 1853 Mr. Porter’s airship was still under construction.  On January 1st, of that year, another Washington, D.C. newspaper, the Weekly National Intelligencier, had this to say;

       “When Mr. Porter issued his prospectus or proposition to construct machinery for aerial navigation, and offered shares therein for cash in advance, it was supposed or suspected by most people – probably nine-tenths of those who read the prospectus – to be a mere trick to raise money, but without any serious intention to proceed in the construction of said machine or aeroport.  But the proposition having received the confidence of a sufficient number to obtain the sum required in said prospectus, Mr. Porter did proceed in good faith in the work of constructing the said aeroport, and notwithstanding that he encountered a series of adversities which much retarded the work, and nearly doubled the estimated expense thereof, he had brought the aeroport nearly to completion when interrupted by the inclemency of winter weather.  An unlucky oversight, which required a laborious portion of the work to be wrought over again, only prevented the completion of the aeroport in November.  He now believes that his aeroport may be put to full operation in two or three weeks of mild, calm, pleasant weather.  But, in consequence of delay and the expense of the safe-keeping of the machinery, (some part which being 160 feet long, is rather difficult of storage,) he finds it expiedient to sell a larger number of shares than he had heretofore intended to do; and in consideration of the forward state of the work, and having thus far discovered nothing to shake his confidence in the ultimate success thereof, he reasonably expects the public to entertain more confidence, and attach more value to the said shares than at or prior to the commencement.”

     The rest of the article went on to reiterate what Mr. Porter had said in his letter dated March 16, 1852.         

Advertisement From The Daily Evening Star March 25, 1853 Note the cost of admission was 50 cents

Advertisement From
The Daily Evening Star
March 25, 1853
Note the cost of admission was 50 cents

     To help raise more funding, Mr. Porter exhibited a 22-foot-long and 8-foot-wide working model of his “aeroport” airship at venues where people willing to pay a small admission price could see it.  The total weight of the model was said to be only 15 pounds.

     One place in particular where the model was exhibited on more than one occasion was Carusi’s Saloon in Washington, D.C.  

     On April 13, 1853, the Daily Evening Star reported, “The performance at Carusi’s saloon last evening was highly satisfactory, and elicited frequent applause from the excited audience.”    

     Evidently the demonstrations of his working model failed to achieve the desired effect to entice more investors, for the following month Mr. Porter penned another letter which appeared in the Daily Evening Star on May 12, 1853, which he titled:   “Outrageous Apathy And Inconsistency”.

     The letter read:    

From The Republic newspaper Washington, D. C. April 1, 1853 Note the price of admission was now 25 cents.

From The Republic newspaper Washington, D. C.
April 1, 1853
Note the price of admission was now 25 cents.



     “What a world of fools; or rather, what a nation of skeptics and moral cowards.  Look at the facts.  More than ten years ago I published , described, illustrated, and demonstrated the practicability of a convenient mode of traveling safely and rapidly through the air, in any required direction; and subsequently have not only refuted all arguments against it, but demonstrated its practicability by the frequently repeated exhibition of an operating aerial steamer (aeroport or flying ship) on a small scale, and proved beyond all cavil, that this mode of traveling would be incomparatively more safe, as well as more pleasant and expeditious, than nay mode in present use; and that the cost of an aeroport of such size and proportions as to be capable of carrying two hundred passengers safely, at a good speed of one hundred miles per hour, would be less than that of an ordinary steam ferry boat; and that the earnings of this aeroport would pay more than two hundred percent per week on its cost; and that no accident or emergency could possibly occur to subject the passengers to more danger than that of a hotel residence.  Yet with these facts before them, and while people are being burned, drowned, smashed and ground up by hundreds, by collisions, overturning and plunging railroad trains, and the burning of steamboats; and while thousands are exposing their lives by land journies across the thousand miles of desert and wilderness, or submitting to the hardship and dangers of a six months voyage around Cape Horn, such a total apathy, or mental disease of skepticism, and the fear of vulgar sneers pervades the community that not one man of wealth can be found in these United States, willing to furnish the requisite funds for introducing this incomparable and greatly needed improvement.

     When application has been made to Congress, the subject meets with ridicule; or, if referred to appropriate committees, the members refuse to examine its merits. 

     When the most interesting appeals have been made public through the press, and a liberal interest (worth $500,) in the invention , has been offered to every editor who would give the proposition an insertion, only one in fifty of those whom the offer was made , deigned to notice it; and of these, three subsequently demanded cash payment for the insertion.

     So goes the world, or rather, the nation; and so it will go, perhaps, till the more reasonable English or French capitalists shall have put this same aeroport in operation in Europe; when all Yankeedom will eagerly adopt the invention, and wonder that it had not been introduced before.”

     R. Porter       

     One can understand Mr. Porter’s frustration.  As a man of foresight, he knew that air travel was the way of the future, and history has proven him correct, but he didn’t understand why people were reluctant to invest in his project, or why the United States government had denied his request for funding when other nations like France and England were actively seeking was to develop air travel.  

     So why were people reluctant to invest?  One possibility could have been the promise of a potential return of $20,800 on a mere $5 investment.  If Mr. Porter’s figures are correct, and there’s no reason to doubt them, a person would be a fool not to invest, but perhaps potential investors couldn’t believe it, thinking it was too good to be true. 

     Another possibility is that while we take high-speed aerial navigation for granted in the 21st century, in 1853 it was akin to science fiction, so one can understand why some may have thought Mr. Porter’s invention would be nothing more than a passing fancy.  Such was the thinking with other inventions throughout the ages, like the telephone, for example.         

1845 Train Illustration

1845 Train Illustration

     And perhaps there were those who weren’t anxious to see airships replace trains and ocean going vessels as a primary means of long distance travel, especially when Mr. Porter was claiming his invention would be able to cross continents and oceans in mere days – something trains and ships were incapable of.    

       Yet Mr. Porter persevered, and in early July of 1853 he announced that he hoped his “Aeroport” would be ready for trials by October 1st. If successful, he planned to fly it to the World’s Fair in New York City.  At the time he made the announcement he was still reportedly $300 short of his financial goal.

      On July 26, 1853, a Washington, D.C. newspaper reported, “We have heretofore stated that Mr. Rufus Porter proposes to construct an aeroport with which to visit the Crystal Palace; he and others being confident that he can accomplish his purpose.  Notwithstanding the doubts which prevail upon the subject, and the opinions expressed as to the practicability, he is now engaged in the construction of his flying ship.  The City Councils, several weeks ago, as we were yesterday informed by a member of the lower board, refused to grant him the use of a vacant lot somewhere in the slashes, on which he could erect a pavilion to protect his mechanical operations; but this has not weakened his determination to persevere in his long-considered plans.  To say the least, the municipal authorities can take no offence should the proprietor withhold from them the complementary invitation of a saloon passage!” 

     And so it went.  A year-and-a-half later on January 5, 1855, the Washington Sentinel commented, “Mr. Rufus Porter, with the industry of a beaver, is still working on his “float and saloon”, in this city.”   Unfortunately the project never came to fruition.  In the ensuing years others followed in Porter’s foot steps.  Some made progress, others failed, but it was Rufus Porter who’d laid the groundwork for future dirigible development.   This fact was recognized in The Sun, a New York newspaper, in the autumn of 1913, twenty-nine years after Rufus Porter died.  The article said in part; “Perhaps you don’t know who Rufus Porter was, and if that be the case, you, as a patriotic American will be interested in learning that he has some right to be described as the father of the dirigible airship.”  

     Rufus Porter died at the age of 92 in West Haven, Connecticut, on August 13, 1884, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in West Haven.   

     To learn more about Rufus Porter, one should visit the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgton, Maine, or the museum’s website at:  


     Vermont Telegraph, “New York Mechanic” May 5, 1841.  

     Daily American Telegraph, (Washington, D. C. ) “The Flying Ship”, Rufus Porter’s appeal to investors through his letter to the editor., April 3, 1852 

     Jeffersonian Republican, (no headline) August 12, 1852 

     The Daily Comet, (Baton Rouge, La.) “The Flying Ship” October 8, 1852

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, D.C.) “The Flying Ship”, January 1, 1853

     Grand River Times, “(Grand Haven, Michigan), (no headline) February 23, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, “The Aeroport, Or Flying Ship” – Carusi’s Saloon advertisement, March 25, 1853

     The Republic, (Washington D. C. ) Carusi’s Saloon – The Flying Ship, or Aeroport”, April 1, 1853    

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, D.C.) ,”The Flying Ship”, April 2, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, “Communicated – The Flying Ship”, April 13, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, (Washington, D.C. ) “Outrageous Apathy and Inconsistency”, May 12, 1853 

     Daily Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.) (no headline – Porter announces Aeroport will be ready for test flights on October 1st.) July 11, 1853

     The Daily Republic, (Washington, D.C.) “Aerial Flights” July 12, 1853

     The Daily Republic, (Washington D.C.) “Aerial Traveling”, July 26, 1853

     Washington Sentinel, Rufus Porter’s letter to the editor, November 27, 1853

     Washington Sentinel, under “Local and Personal”, headline “The Flying Ship” October 28, 1854

     Washington Sentinel, (Washington, D.C.) “Floating Castles”, January 5, 1855 

     Tri-Weekly Asturian, “Miscellaneous Items”, September 16, 1873

     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.) “Nest of Flyers Here – Washington Home Of Greatest Attempts To navigate Air”, September 20, 1908

     New York Sun, (Image) “Rufus Porter’s Airship Of 1850”, November 23, 1913, 3rd Section, Page 12.

     New York Sun, “Yankee’s Dirigible Airship Of Sixty Years Ago”, November 23, 1913, 3rd Section, Page 12.

     Rufus Porter Museum, Bridgton, Maine.   

     Wikipedia – Rufus Porter

Samuel Cabot’s Aviation Propeller – 1896

Samuel Cabot’s Aviation Propeller – 1896

     The following article appeared in The Madisonian, (a now defunct Virginia City, Montana, newspaper), on August 29, 1896. 

     New Flying Machine

     Boston Man Has Some Ideas He Is ready To Apply To One

     Samuel Cabot, the Boston flying machine inventor, who is just starting to Europe to study flying machines, has invented and tested a propeller to be used in aerial navigation.

     The propeller, made something like the propeller of a steamship, is operated by foot power and revolves at a high rate of speed. Mr. Cabot tested the machine by attaching it to a couple of bicycles which he fastened together.  Then the pedals of the bicycles were removed and those of the propeller put on.

     When the big fan began to turn, away went the bicycle, and the farther it went the higher became the rate of speed, until at last it was bowling along at the rate of ten miles an hour.

     Mr. Cabot thinks he has solved one of the problems of man flight.  Now, if he can get a machine that will stay up in the air, he calculates that he can drive it along with his invention.

Comment On The Future Of Air Travel – 1906

Comment On The Future Of Air Travel – 1906

     While aviation accidents and fatalities connected to balloon travel had already occurred at the time this was published, the first airplane fatality was still in the future.  The first person to perish in a powered airplane accident was Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge on September 17, 1908. 

Click on image to enlarge.


The Rising Sun Kansas City, Mo. August 30, 1906

The Rising Sun
Kansas City, Mo.
August 30, 1906

Talcott Mountain, CT – December 19, 1884

Talcott Mountain, Connecticut – December 19, 1884

Zephaniah Phelps

Zephaniah Phelps

     If the following story is to be believed, it is perhaps the first mechanically involved aviation related accident to occur in the state of Connecticut, and possibly New England. 

     Zephaniah Phelps, age 75, was said to be an inventor whose main interests focused on perpetual motion and aerial flight.  He lived in a hut in the woods near the town of Avon, Ct., and reportedly wasn’t taken seriously by those who knew him.  Undaunted, Mr. Phelps built a flying-machine of his own design, and by the early winter of 1884 he was ready to test it. 

     On December 19, 1884, Phelps carried his invention to the top of Talcott Mountain where a tall wooden observation tower stood.  His flying-machine was designed to be worn on his back, and according to the Weekly Saratogian, “consisted of a strong but light gas generator, a combination of cog-wheels and pulleys and two light pitch turbine wheels, both arranged at a slight angle to the vertical.  The whole contrivance, including two tri-angular wings, weighed about sixty pounds.”       

     While standing atop the observation tower, Phelps donned his machine and secured himself to it with a rope.  After starting the small engine, he leaped into space. 

     “For a moment the machine rose a few feet and then began to drop.” the Weekly Saratogian reported, “Phelps found his generator losing power with every second and attempted to discover the cause.  By some mistake he opened the discharge valve and instantly was falling rapidly, with his turbine motionless and useless.  The only check to his descent were the two triangular wings.”

     Phelps dropped into some trees about 700 feet below the tower breaking several bones.   

     The newspaper account goes on to state he was found by a hiker who happened to hear his groans, which would seem to indicate that there hadn’t been any witnesses to the whole affair.  Phelps was reportedly carried to a house about a mile away for treatment of his injuries.

     “I do not care so much for my hurts,” Phelps was quoted in The National Police Gazette, “But I had hoped to make my name immortal, and now I am so crippled that I am afraid I can never fly.  It was not the fault of my principles or my machine.  When I got on top of the tower I strapped myself to the cylinder and tied on my turbine attachments.  Then I stood on the side and stared my gas machine.  The turbine wheels revolved as well as I had expected, and carried me clear of the tower and some feet away.  I was going finely when the wind caught me and turned me downward.”     

Updated August 13, 2018

     Two other aviation related accidents known to have occurred on Talcott Mountain happened in 1971 and 1972.

     On December 15, 1971, a Simsbury, Connecticut, pilot crashed on the mountain in heavy fog.  He reportedly escaped with only a few minor scratches.   

     On April 13, 1972, a man from Virginia was killed when his plane crashed and burned on Talcott Mountain in heavy fog.    


     Morning Journal and Courier, (New Haven, Ct.), “A Perilous Ride – An Old man’s Unsuccessful Trial Of A New Flying Machine”, December 22, 1884.

     Weekly Saratogian – Saratoga Springs “A Flying Machine Crank”, December 25, 1884

     The National Police Gazette, “Like A Falling Star”, January 17, 1885    

     Hartford Courant, “Crash on Takeoff Leaves Pilot Hurt”, January 23, 1975.  Article is primarily about a man who crashed in Simsbury, Connecticut, on January 22, 1975.  In that instance a Beechcraft Musketeer crashed in a field just after takeoff, after having completed its annual inspection.  The pilot was transported to a hospital for treatment. The end of the article relates that two other crashes had occurred in Simsbury, both on Talcott Mountain.

Updated August 29, 2018

     On September 21, 1976, a 29-year-old hang-glider from Wethersfield, Connecticut, was killed when he crashed just after taking off from the top of Talcott Mountain.  According to witnesses he fell 150 feet and came down in a tree.   

     Source: Providence Evening Bulletin, “Conn. Hang-Gliding Expert Killed,” September 22, 1976, page A-12. 

Roy Knabenshue’s Airship – 1907

Roy Knabenshue’s Airship – 1907

A 1907 postcard view of Roy Knabenshue's airship

A 1907 postcard view of Roy Knabenshue’s airship

      Roy Knabenshue (1875-1960) was an early aviator known for his airship flights.   Among his many accomplishments, he was the first to successfully fly an airship in New England. The following article appeared in the Falmouth Enterprise on September 14, 1907

     “The first successful flights of any airship in New England were made by Roy Knabenshue at Brockton fair last year.  During the four days of the fair Knabenshue made nine successful flights, making a record never before equaled.  This year Knabenshue will be an attraction at the Brockton fair Oct. 1, 2, 3, 4 and promises some aerial feats never before shown in this country.  This year the Brockton fair offers its patrons $40,000 in purses and attractions; every department larger and better than ever and many new attractions never before seen on any fair grounds.  The Martland band, Salem cadet band, and Milo Burke band, three of the best bands in New England, will furnish inspiring harmony; Babcock will loop the loop and leap the gap, a thrill to make thrillers thrill; a stage show of 15 top-line acts are a few tips of the coming biggest, busiest and best of out-door shows.” 

     A New York Times article dated August 7, 1906,  told of a balloon flight over New England made by Roy Knabenshue and Dr. Julian P. Thomas.  It was described as “one of the most successful balloon trips yet undertaken in this country.”  The purpose of the voyage was to test a new guide rope and “water anchor”

     The trip began at night in New York City, under the light of a bright moon which made for great visibility.  After a few miles they encountered fog conditions, and hailed a startled boat crew to ask their location.   They stopped over for breakfast in Noank, Connecticut, before proceeding along the Connecticut coastline, eventually reaching Massachusetts.  They came down at a location known as Brant Rock in the town of Marshfield.    As the balloon alighted, winds dragged it towards the water until its movement was halted by the anchor.  The two men then climbed out and secured it to a fence.  The only injury was a minor cut to Mr. Kanbenshue’s head.   

     There is more information about Mr. Knabenshue to be found at other internet sites.  

Update: November 25, 2017

     In early October of 1907, Roy Knabenshue was performing at the Danbury Fair in Danbury, Connecticut, when the motor to his airship suddenly failed while he was in the air.  With no way to control the ship, he was forced to descent, and came down in a tree.  Knabenshue was not hurt.

     Source: The Daily Morning Journal And Currier, (New Haven, Ct.), October 12, 1907   

Lincoln Beachey’s Airship – August, 1907

Lincoln Beachey’s Airship – August, 1907

     The following news snippet appeared in the Falmouth Enterprise in an article about happenings in New Bedford, Massachusetts, during Carnival Week in August, 1907. 

     “Many are the attractions which are offered visitors to this city during the Carnival week, but chief among them will be Lincoln Beachey’s airship which will make flights every day.  Beachey is one of the only demonstrators to have a ship that will really fly, and he will travel in it the full length of the city each time he ascends, making only one short stop in the center to show his ability to steer the unwieldly craft of the air.  During the summer he has ben a big attraction at summer resorts along the entire coast, and in every ascent he has been successful.”

     Lincoln Beachey, born March 3, 1887, was an early aviator and stunt flyer billed as “The Man Who Owns The Sky”.  Much about his life can be found on the internet. He died in a plane crash in San Francisco Bay on March 14, 1915.


     Falmouth Enterprise, “New Bedford Old Home And Textile Carnival”, August 24, 1907  

     Wikipedia – Lincoln Beachey

     Update: September 19, 2016

     The following article about Mr. Beechy’s airship appeared in the Cameron County Press, (Penn.) June 13, 1907, Page 3.  It pre-dates the article above.

Was Blown Out To Sea

A Man In An Airship narrowly Escaped Death In The Ocean

     “Boston, Mass. – The breaking down of his motor which allowed the airship he was navigating to be blown seaward, almost resulted in the death of Lincoln Beechey, off Revere beach, Thursday.

     Beechey had made a seven mile journey from Revere Beach to Boston, sailing high over the city and passing over the steeple of the Park Street church and the state house dome, finally landed on Boston Common, where thousands of persons were attracted by his airship.

     On the return journey to Revere Beach the motor became disabled when the aeronaut was a mile off shore, over Boston Harbor, and the airship was carried some distance seaward.  Beechey finally managed to partially repair his engine so as to get back to the vicinity of Revere Beach.  When several hundred feet off shore the airship settled rapidly and it looked as if Beechey would be thrown into the water and entangled beneath his airship.  Men in rowboats and launches who hastened to his assistance seized the drag rope and were able to tow him and his apparatus ashore before he struck the water.”       


     Cameron County Press, “Was Blown Out To Sea”, June 13, 1907, Page 3


Earl L. Ovington – Early New England Aviator

Earl L. Ovington – Early New England Aviator

   early monoplane illustration

     There’s evidence to suggest that Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly an airplane in Connecticut – in 1901 – which pre-dates the Wright Brothers flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.  However, could it be that Whitehead’s accomplishment was relatively unknown in 1911?  If so, it might explain the following headline in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer on May 6, 1911; “Ovington, First To Make Successful Flight In Connecticut, Has Narrow Esacpe As Plane Drops Into Air Hole”.  

      Earl L. Ovington, (1879-1936) (Also spelled “Earle” in some sources.) was a pioneer aviator from Newton, Massachusetts, who’d worked as an assistant to Thomas Edison prior to starting his aviation career.      

Advertisement from the
Bridgeport Evening Farmer
May 4, 1911

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer article referred to a harrowing flight Ovington made on May 5, 1911 at Steeplechase Park (On Steeplechase Island) in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

     The article began, “At Steeplechase Island yesterday afternoon Earl L. Ovington wrote his name deep into aviation history by making the first really successful aeroplane flight in the state of Connecticut.”

     The article went on to describe how Ovington’s Bleriot aeroplane dipped in “a dreaded air pocket” while at 2,000 feet over a crowd of spectators, and narrowly missed slamming into the ground.   As a point of fact, he’d had three brushes with death on the same flight.

     The first involved his take-off where he narrowly missed crashing into a building.  The second was when the plane hit the so-called “air pocket” and experienced a sudden dip.  During the dip, Ovinton remained in his seat due to his “life belt” holding him securely in place, thus saving him from being pitched to the ground.

     “These lifebelts are great things.” he joked later, “I don’t see why they are not included in the fashion plates of all aviators.”    

     As the plane’s right wing suddenly dipped when it entered the “air pocket”, the aircraft began falling from the sky, and it seemed virtually certain that Ovington was going to crash, but he recovered control of the plane just in time.  

        In an exclusive interview with a reporter from the The Bridgeport Farmer, Ovington described what happened that day.  

     “I certainly thought for a moment at the start yesterday that there was going to be a big dent in that ball room, with a wrecked machine and probably a wrecked aviator beneath it.

     That Steeplechase track is certainly the smallest and worst field I ever arose from or attempted to alight into.  I had great difficulty in getting a proper start over that sub-soil of sand.  The small wheels loaded down with the heavy motor, sank into it and retarded badly.

     When I got into the air I pushed down the tail of the machine and started to rise.  My Machine didn’t respond the way it should, and I saw that I wasn’t going fast enough.

     I had a fraction of a second in which to make up my mind: to come down and start over again, or make an attempt to get over the buildings upon which I was sweeping.

     I find that my mind works automatically in such cases quicker than I can think.  I realized instantaneously that to come down would mean that I would plough right into the fence and the spectators at (the) speed I was traveling.

     So Instead, I straightened out the tail and shot straight ahead, plumb for the buildings.  It must have looked as thought I was going to crash right into them with terrific force.  I took that course on purpose, in order to get sufficient speed .  Then I lowered the tail hard, and the monoplane lifted up nicely and just cleared the flag pole of the ball room.

     Over every building of that kind there is a heavy stream of air when there is a wind blowing.  As soon as I had cleared the ball room, my wings struck the stream of air and I went directly up then at a sharp angle.  But I owe my life and the safety of my machine to the splendid way in which my engine worked in lifting me over that building.  If it had failed, there would have been a great wreck. 

     Once in the air, my machine asserted its right to be what it is – the fastest climbing machine in the world.  I went up at an angle of 30 degrees.  There isn’t another machine in America that can do it.

     When I was making my second turn over the Sound (Long Island Sound) at a height of about 2,000 feet, I experienced what I consider to be the narrowest shave of my career as an aviator.

     Without warning, my right wing dropped into an “air pocket” or calm space, and immediately sank down, tilting the machine at a sharp angle.  There is only one way to save yourself in a case like that.  I lowered the machine quickly, and the downward plunge gave me sharp acceleration.  At the same instant I jammed over as hard as I could and the machine just righted itself.”

     When he was safely back on terra firma, Ovington kissed his new bride of two weeks, who had watched the entire event unfold.

     Ovington flew again at Steeplechase Park on May 7th, and once again he nearly died when his airplane hit another “air pocket” and almost crashed in the same manner as before.   

     On June 15, 1911, slightly more than a month after his flights at Steeplechase Park, Ovington’s fame grew when became the first man to pilot an airplane over the city of Boston. 

     On July 28, 1911, Ovington crash-landed a borrowed airplane in Mineola, New York.  On July 29th the Bridgeport Evening Farmer reported that the aviator “had the most remarkable escape of his life” when he took off in anew monoplane belonging to William Evans.  Not long after becoming airborne the engine quit, and the plane crash-landed and flipped over near a roadway construction project not far from the airfield.  Ovington was pinned beneath the wreckage for ten minutes before rescuers could extricate him.  Despite the damage to the aircraft, he escaped with minor injuries.  

     In August of 1911, Ovington  entered the International Aviation Meet held in Chicago, and won the 12 mile race for monoplanes with a time of 13 minutes and 30.92 seconds,  winning $400.  

     In September of 1911 he entered the Harvard-Boston Aero meet where he raced other well known airmen, Tom Sopwith, and Claude Graham-White, 15 an 1/2 miles to Boston Light and back. Ovington placed third with a time of 16 minutes 15.25 seconds. 

     One Sunday in October of 1911 Ovington was nearly arrested on Long Island, New York, when three deputy sheriffs appeared at the Nassau Boulevard field and told him and another aviator, Miss Mathilda Moisant, they couldn’t fly their airplanes due to it being the Sabbath.  This was due to a New York court ruling which determined that Sunday airshows where admission was charged were illegal.  

     This left both pilots in a predicament as they would be forced to leave their airplanes overnight, and make arrangements for guarding them.  Both aviators flew anyway, with the deputies in hot pursuit via automobile.

     As both took to the sky the deputies were forced to make a choice as to which one to chase.  For unspecified reasons they stuck with Miss Moisant who flew from the field to her hangar in Mineola, which was located on her brother Alfred’s property.  Once on the ground she ran towards her car where her chauffer was standing by, and secured herself inside. The three deputy sheriffs arrived in short order and attacked the chauffer with billy-clubs when he tried to prevent them from extricating Miss Moisant. 

     Miss Moisant was taken into custody, but was later released with all charges dropped because the deputies didn’t have a warrant.   

     Meanwhile, Ovington fared better, and landed near Belmont Park when he encountered a squall that nearly wrecked his aircraft.  By then the deputies had no idea where he’d gone and he escaped arrest.   

     Another interesting story about Earl Ovington occurred in the summer of 1919 when he flew two New York men,  J. O. Colt, and L. W. Hutchins, six miles out to sea in a seaplane so they could fish for sea bass.  It was reported that they returned with a string of fish. 

     In November of 1919, Ovington took part in an airborne search-and-rescue operation off the coast of New Jersey.  On November 7th, two 16-year-old youths, John Ledbetter, and Raymond Iszard, went duck hunting in a small boat and were carried out to sea.  When the boys didn’t come home a search was instituted.  In addition to water craft, two seaplanes from the Cape May Naval Air Station, and Earl Ovington’s personal aircraft, took part in the search.    

     The boat with the youths still inside was found by one of the navy planes about three miles off Cape May.  Unfortunately both had succumbed to exposure.

     More information about Earl Ovington can be found at


     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Ovington, First To Make Successful Flight In Connecticut, Has Narrow Escape As Plane Drops Into Air Hole”, May 6, 1911 

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Ovington In Flight Over Steeplechase” , May 6, 1911, page 7

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Earl Ovington’s Narrow Escape”, July 29, 1911, page 7.

     Burlington Weekly Free Press, “Aviators Speed Mile-A-Minute”, September 7, 1911, Page 9

     The Daily Missoulian, Photo and caption, August 14, 1911, Page 3 

     (Rock island Ill.) Rock Island Argus, “Third Day Results In Aviation Meet”, August 15, 1911, page 3

     Arizona Republican, “Miss Moisant Is called Aviatrix”, October 9, 1911, pg. 1

     (Ocala, Florida) The Ocala Evening Star, “Struck A Woman To Save The Sabbath”, October 10, 1911 

     The Washington Times, “Fish From Plane Six Miles At Sea”, July 12, 1919, final edition

     New York Tribune, “Bodies Of Two Boys Found Drifting In Boat”, November 11, 1919, Page 3


Connecticut’s Laws Pertaining To Airships & Airplanes – 1911

Connecticut’s Laws Pertaining To Airships & Airplanes – 1911

     Connecticut was the first state to pass laws pertaining to airships and airplanes.  The laws took effect June 8, 1911. 

Click on images to enlarge.

CT Plan to License Airships

Law to regulate airshipr newspaper

Ct First State newspaper 1

Ct First State newspaper 2

Ct First State newspaper 3

Ct First State newspaper 4

Ct First State newspaper 5


Some thought the law might not be Constitutional.


Ct Law Good  newspaper 1

Ct Law Good newspaper 2

     In October of 1911 it was ruled by Connecticut’s Attorney General that balloons were not airships, and therefore did not come under the new law.


Transatlantic Air Traffic Prediction – 1913

Transatlantic Air Traffic Prediction – 1913

The following article appeared in the Essex County Herald, July 18, 1913.

Click on image to enlarge.

Trans Atlantic Air Traffic 

Connecticut’s Airship Service Station – 1920

Connecticut’s Airship Service Station – 1920

The following article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin, March 2, 1920, Pg. 1.

Click on image to enlarge.

Insured airship newspaper


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