22 artifacts in this set
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Racing Poster, "Coupe Gordon Bennett 1909, Curtiss le Gagnant"
James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner and publisher of the New York Herald, sponsored a series of air races held from 1909 to 1920. The Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy went to the pilot who covered a set distance in the fastest time. The inaugural Gordon Bennett Air Race took place at Reims, France, on August 28, 1909.
Glenn Curtiss at the Controls of His Aircraft at the Grande Semaine D'Aviation de Champagne, August 1909
Victory in the first Gordon Bennett Air Race went to American pilot Glenn Curtiss. The motorcycle manufacturer and pioneering aviator took the prize in his Rheims Racer, an airplane he designed especially for the Bennett competition. Curtiss completed the 12-mile circuit in 15 minutes, 50 seconds with an average racing speed of 46.5 mph.
Advertising Poster, "Glen H. Curtiss Aviation Meet," 1912
Glenn Curtiss formed his own exhibition stunt flying team. He was no stranger to risk, having personally set a number of motorcycle speed records. Curtiss’s air shows attracted thousands of spectators. After a 1911 event in Los Angeles, California, drew a crowd of 30,000, Curtiss confidently proclaimed that "aviation is a standard and lasting thing."
Orville and Wilbur Wright at Their Home in Dayton, Ohio, circa 1910
Wilbur and Orville Wright, the airplane's inventors, looked at air races and stunt-heavy aviation meets with dismay. They were cautious pilots who did not approve of risky aerobatics. The brothers initially resisted pressure to participate in dangerous shows. Instead, they focused on manufacturing commercial aircraft and operating their flying school.
Notice of an Aviation Meet Featuring the Wright Brothers' Passenger-Carrying Aeroplanes, Columbia, South Carolina, 1913
But the Wright brothers struggled to find customers for their pioneering airplanes. Reluctantly, the Wrights formed an exhibition flying team in 1910. If nothing else, it was a way to earn money -- up to $5,000 per plane in each show -- and an opportunity to promote their aircraft.
Arch Hoxsey, Frank Coffyn, and Ralph Johnstone, Members of the Wright Exhibition Flying Team, 1910
Frank Coffyn, Arch Hoxsey, and Ralph Johnstone all flew for the Wright Exhibition Team. Hoxsey and Johnstone each set early altitude records, and the press nicknamed them the "heavenly twins." But, as if to confirm the Wrights' fears, both were killed in separate crashes in 1910. Coffyn survived his stunt flying days and, later in life, he worked extensively with helicopters.
Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, September Third to Thirteenth, 1910
The 1910 Harvard-Boston Aero Meet was the first major international meet held in the United States. The event drew top pilots from around the world, and it boasted a $10,000 prize for the fastest flight over a predetermined 25-mile course. British pilot Claude Grahame-White won the cash prize, which was sponsored by the Boston Globe.
Official Programme of the International Aviation Tournament at Belmont Park, October 22 to 30, 1910
The 1910 International Aviation Tournament at Belmont Park, New York, attracted more of the world's best pilots with some $75,000 in prize money. The tournament included altitude and speed contests, and it hosted the 1910 running of the Gordon Bennett Air Race. Walter Brookins, another of the Wrights' pilots, hoped to win the Bennett with a special Wright airplane.
Crash of the Wright Model R "Baby Grand" Flown by Walter Brookins at the International Aviation Tournament, 1910
Brookins flew a modified Wright Model R dubbed the "Baby Grand." The plane was powered by a 60-horsepower V-8 engine, and Orville Wright was able to fly it at speeds near 70 mph. But the engine failed on Brookins during the Gordon Bennett race. Brookins survived the forced landing, but his chance for the trophy was gone.
Theodore Roosevelt and Pilot Arch Hoxsey in a Wright Co. Type AB Airplane, October 11, 1910
In October 1910, Wright pilot Arch Hoxsey went aloft with a special guest: former president Theodore Roosevelt. Famous passengers like Roosevelt generated positive press coverage for air shows and aviation in general, and they helped calm the public's fears about airplane safety. "It was fine," Roosevelt said of his flight, "Fine!"
Advertising Poster, "Patterson Aviator," 1915-1916
Glenn Curtiss and the Wright brothers may have been the most prominent aerial exhibitors, but they weren't the only ones. Patterson Aeroplane Company of San Francisco, California, assembled a touring team to promote its airplanes and flying boats. Patterson pilots flew in stunt shows, but they also competed in more serious reliability contests to prove the quality of Patterson aircraft.
Air Racing Poster, "Over 200 Miles Per Hour International Air Races," St. Louis, Missouri, 1921
Air races emphasized speed above all else, and those speeds climbed each year. By the mid-1910s, some racing airplanes exceeded 120 mph in competition -- more than 2.5 times faster than Glenn Curtiss's winning speed at the first Gordon Bennett Air Race a few years earlier. After World War I, racing speeds jumped above 200 mph.
Pilot Howard Rinehart Standing on Wing of the Dayton Wright RB-1 Racer, August 1920
Howard Rinehart and Milton Baumann designed their Dayton-Wright RB-1 to win the 1920 Gordon Bennett race. The plane was built for speed with an enclosed cockpit, adjustable wing flaps, and retractable landing gear. The RB-1 also featured a single cantilevered wing supported by an internal framework. Rinehart demonstrated the wing's strength in this photo.
1920 Dayton-Wright RB-1 Monoplane
Howard Rinehart entered the 1920 Gordon Bennett race as America's favorite to win. But the RB-1's complex equipment proved troublesome. The flaps wouldn't set properly, the wheels wouldn't fully retract, and a failed control cable hampered Rinehart's ability to steer. Rinehart dropped out of the race, but his airplane's innovations became commonplace in the years ahead.
The Merchant's Exchange of St. Louis Trophy Race at the Pulitzer Air Races, October 5, 1923
Airplanes raced on marked courses defined by towering pylons at each end. Pilots raced full throttle on the straightaways, and then made steeply banked turns around the pylons. As the airplanes got faster, the courses got longer. By the mid-1920s, some races boasted speeds near 250 mph and course circuits over 30 miles long.
Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Winner of the 1922 Pulitzer Air Race, Just after Landing, October 14, 1922
The annual National Air Races were the premier competition in the United States from the 1920s through the 1940s. The top prize was sponsored by publisher Ralph Pulitzer. Russell Maughan won the 1922 event with a speed of 205.86 mph. That year's races were held at Selfridge Field near Mount Clemens, Michigan, some 20 miles northeast of Detroit.
Crowds at the Sesqui-Centennial Air Races, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 1926
Crowds turned out in force for the 1926 National Air Races. That year's event took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The races ultimately found a permanent home in Cleveland, Ohio, where they ran annually -- apart from a break during World War II -- through 1949.
Amelia Earhart with Fellow Pilots Competing at the First Women's Air Derby, August 1929
For 1929, the National Air Races included a Women's Air Derby that was the first all-female air race in the United States. The race, from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, featured top pilots like Louise Thaden, Pancho Barnes, and Amelia Earhart. Thaden won the contest with a racing time of 20 hours, 19 minutes, 4 seconds.
Edsel B. Ford Reliability Tour Trophy, 1925-1931
Some contests favored punctuality over pace. From 1925 to 1931, Ford Motor Company sponsored an annual National Air Tour to promote reliability and safety in commercial aircraft. Airplanes were judged on their ability to maintain regular speeds and schedules. Edsel Ford commissioned this sterling silver trophy to be the tour’s top prize.
Edsel Ford Starts the 1925 National Air Tour at Ford Airport
The first National Air Tour departed from Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan, on September 28, 1925. This photo shows Edsel Ford waving the starting flag. The contest included 17 airplanes from 11 different manufacturers. Participants traveled to 13 cities throughout the Midwest and covered 1,775 miles in six days. Judges declared all 11 manufacturers winners for 1925.
Ford Reliability Tour at Ford Airport, Dearborn, Michigan, 1930
Ford's air tour became an international event for 1930. The 18 participating airplanes visited 29 cities in the United States and Canada, covering 4,814 miles. Pilot Harry Russell won with a Ford Tri-Motor. Altogether, Ford won the tour three times which, by contest rules, gave it permanent ownership of the Edsel Ford Trophy -- later gifted to The Henry Ford.
Ford Reliability Tour at Ford Airport, Dearborn, Michigan, 1931
Interest in the Ford reliability tours, and in exhibition flying generally, waned as the 1930s dawned. The aviation industry was maturing, and "flying machines" -- if not quite yet a part of everyday life -- simply weren't as novel anymore. But the goals of those early meets and races were realized. The airplane's performance, reliability, and practicality had been proved.