Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) is best remembered for his work to develop the telephone, but he had a pioneering role in aviation as well. In 1907, Bell assembled a small team to design, build, and pilot some of the earliest flying machines. Working together at the dawn of manned flight, the members of Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association made extraordinary developments in a remarkably brief period of time.
Founding the Aerial Experiment Association
As his 60th birthday approached, Alexander Graham Bell finally had the time and means to pursue his long-time interest in solving the problem of flight. Bell had supported and closely followed the failed efforts of Samuel Langley to develop a practical flying machine beginning in the 1890s. He also knew of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s successful 1903 flight. The Wrights were working in secret, refusing to collaborate with could-be competitors as they shopped their Flyer around to potential buyers in the United States as well as Europe—where other aeronautical pioneers were making progress with flying machines of their own design.
Bell believed tetrahedrons—triangular pyramids—held the answer. Convinced a practical flying machine could be produced by motorizing a tetrahedral kite, he began a series of experiments at Beinn Bhreagh, a summer estate owned by Bell and his wife Mabel, overlooking Bras d'Or Lake on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. As his investigations progressed, Bell decided to assemble a team of talented young enthusiasts to help bring them to completion.
Aerial Experiment Association Members Thomas Selfridge and Alexander Graham Bell, 1908. / THF285504
The Bells warmly welcomed these four recruits to Beinn Bhreagh in the fall of 1907, and all reached an agreement to form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA):
J. A. D. McCurdy (1886–1961), Treasurer—The son of Bell’s secretary, this Cape Breton Island native and University of Toronto student became fascinated by the tetrahedral kite experiments at Beinn Bhreagh during a visit home. Bell recruited McCurdy to assist.
F. W. “Casey” Baldwin (1882–1948), Chief Engineer—A recent mechanical engineering graduate from Toronto, Baldwin visited Beinn Bhreagh with McCurdy, a college friend. Bell appreciated Baldwin’s enthusiastic interest in his tetrahedral kite projects and invited him to take part.
Glenn Curtiss (1878–1930), Director of Experiments—Known for building lightweight, powerful engines, Curtiss manufactured motorcycles in Hammondsport, New York. Bell purchased his first aeronautical engine from Curtiss and, considering him to be the preeminent motor expert in the United States, persuaded him to formally participate in the experiments at Beinn Bhreagh.
Thomas Selfridge (1882–1908), Secretary—A promising U.S. Army lieutenant assigned to the Signal Corps’ newly established Aeronautical Division, Selfridge saw a future in military aviation and asked to observe Bell’s kite experiments. Immediately impressed, Bell petitioned his friend President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of War William Howard Taft to allow Selfridge special permission to join the Aerial Experiment Association.
The members agreed to work together over the course of one year, effective October 1. Mabel Bell (1867–1923) supported the venture from its beginning, providing the starting capital. With the understanding that experiments would soon move to a warmer location, Beinn Bhreagh served as Aerial Experiment Association headquarters.
The Aerial Experiment Association’s articles of agreement outlined some financial details: McCurdy and Baldwin would earn $1,000 and Curtiss $5,000—an acknowledgment of his special expertise and compensation for time away from his manufacturing company. Bell and Selfridge declined a salary. Each member would receive a share of any profit from the group’s experiments. But these specifics were ancillary. The Aerial Experiment Association’s primary objective was clear: “to get into the air.”
Experiments of the Aerial Experiment Association
The group agreed to begin formal experimentation with Bell’s tetrahedral kite, Cygnet, and then move on to build and test “aerodromes” (Bell’s preferred term for what would come be to be called “airplanes”) designed by each of the other members.
tested as a glider on Bras d'Or Lake, Cape Breton Island, December 6, 1907
Nearly 3,400 “tetrahedral cells” constructed of aluminum and red silk formed Bell’s massive kite. Though it was built to be motorized, Bell wanted to first test the Cygnet as a glider. Towed by boat, with Selfridge aboard, the delicate craftremained aloft for seven minutes before coming down and being pulled into the water. The Cygnet was a total loss, but “Bell’s Boys,” as they became known, were satisfied with the results.
Bell planned to continue tetrahedral kite experimentation after the Cygnet test, but as agreed, the Aerial Experiment Association would first begin work on aerodromes. After Christmas 1907, everyone relocated to Hammondsport, New York, for milder weather and access to the facilities of the Curtiss Manufacturing Company. Excitement about the arrival of a famous inventor rippled through town, and Bell’s Boys quickly became the stars of Hammondsport’s social scene. The younger men enjoyed easy access to Curtiss motorcycles by day, and evening discussions about how best to tackle the problem of flight—often held in a room of the Curtiss home they dubbed the “thinkorium”—deepened the group’s bond.
Because Selfridge had piloted the Cygnet, his aerodrome design would be built next. Though the members of the Aerial Experiment Association—especially Selfridge—had studied contemporary advances in aviation, none had seen an airplane. After weeks of glider practice and careful construction at Hammondsport, the Aerial Experiment Association was ready to test its first one—the Red Wing.
Before the first flight of the Red Wing, 1908 / THF265979
first flown on Keuka Lake, Hammondsport, March 12, 1908
The Aerial Experiment Association suppressed expectations for the Red Wing—named for thered silk fabric of its curved wings (left over from the Cygnet). The group recognized the fixed-rudder craft as a first attempt. To everyone’s surprise, the Red Wing, piloted by Baldwin,took off on the first attempt and flew more than 300 feet before coming down.
As pilot of the Red Wing, Baldwin was selected to design the Aerial Experiment Association’s second aerodrome. He decided to partner with Curtiss. The men incorporated findings from the Red Wing experiment into their improved design for the White Wing.
The Curtiss JN-4 always turns heads in “Heroes of the Sky.” / THF39670
Walk into the barnstormers section of our Heroes of the Sky exhibit and odds are the first airplane to catch your eye will be our 1917 Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” biplane. Whether it’s the airplane’s inverted attitude, its dangling wing-walker, or its fishy-looking fuselage, there’s a lot to draw your attention. And well there should be. The Curtiss Jenny was among the most significant early American airplanes.
Conceived by British designer Benjamin D. Thomas and built by American aviation entrepreneur Glenn Curtiss, the JN airplanes combined the best elements of Thomas’s earlier Model J and Curtiss’s earlier Model N trainer planes. New variants of the JN were increasingly refined. The fourth in the series, introduced in 1915, was logically designated JN-4. Pilots affectionately nicknamed it the “Jenny.” The inspiration is obvious enough, but even more so if you imagine the formal model name (JN-4) written as many flyers first saw it—with an open-top “4” resembling a “Y.”
This Curtiss JN, circa 1915, left no doubt about its manufacturer’s identity. / THF265971
Despite not being a combat aircraft, the Curtiss Jenny became the iconic American airplane of the First World War. Some 6,000 units were built, and nine of every ten U.S. military pilots learned to fly on a Jenny. The model’s low top speed (about 75 mph) and basic but durable construction were ideal for flight instruction. Dual controls in the front and back seats allowed teacher or student to take charge of the craft at any time.
Our JN-4 is one of approximately 1,200 units built under license by Canadian Aeroplanes, Ltd., of Toronto. In a nod to their Canadian origins, these airplanes were nicknamed “Canucks.” While generally resembling American-built Jennys, the Canadian planes have a different shape to the tailfin and rudder, a refined tail skid, and a control stick rather than the wheel used stateside. (The stick became standard on later American-built Jennys.)
Barnstormer “Jersey” Ringel posed while (sort of) aboard his Jenny about 1921. / THF135786
Following the war, many American pilots were equally desperate to keep flying and to earn a living. “Barnstorming”—performing death-defying aerial stunts for paying crowds—offered a way to do both. Surplus military Jennys could be bought for as little as $300. The same qualities that suited the planes to training—durability and reliability—were just as well-suited to stunt flying. The JN-4 became the quintessential barnstormer’s plane, which explains why our Canuck is featured so prominently in the Heroes of the Sky barnstorming zone. As for the inspiration behind our plane’s paint job… that’s another kettle of fish.
Fishing lures, similar to this one, inspired the unusual paint scheme on our Curtiss JN-4. / THF150858
Founded in 1902, James Heddon and Sons produced fishing lures and rods at its factory in Dowagiac, Michigan. Heddon’s innovative, influential products helped it grow into one of the world’s largest tackle manufacturers. That inventive streak spilled over into Heddon’s advertising efforts. In the early 1920s, the company acquired two surplus JN-4 Canucks and painted them to resemble Heddon lures. These “flying fish” toured the airshow circuit to promote Heddon and its products. While our Canuck isn’t an original Heddon plane, it’s painted as a tribute to those colorful aircraft. (Incidentally, the Heddon Museum is well worth a visit when you’re in southwest Michigan.)
Every airplane in Heroes of the Sky has a story to tell. Some of them are even fish stories!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
1965 Ford Mustang Convertible, Serial Number One. THF90618
Ford Mustang Serial Number 1 and Original Owner Captain Stanley Tucker, 1966. THF98053
More than 55 years ago, Harry Phillips sold Mustang Serial No. 1 to Stanley Tucker in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
The very first Mustang sold was a pre-production model only intended for display. It was meant to be sent back to Ford, and it took nearly two years for the car to be officially returned.
Harry Phillips and Mustang Serial No. 1, September 2019.
Thanks to a campaign spurred on by fellow Ford Mustang lovers, Mr. Phillips was reunited with that same car, in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, on Sept. 27, 2019. Hear his story of that landmark sale in 1964, and learn more about this important artifact: Stanley Tucker and Ford Mustang Serial Number One.
This month we’re excited to welcomeShelley Muzylowski Allen to the Greenfield Village Glass Shop at The Henry Ford as our July Artist in Residence. You can see Shelley in action July 9-13; get to know a little more about Shelley in this Q&A.
Tell us a little bit about you and your work. I was born in Northern Manitoba in a small mining town. I believe that its open skies and barren landscape fostered imagination. I spent a lot of time outside in the long summer light playing outside - on the railroad tracks and on large rock slabs, sometimes finding fossilized stone. During the extreme winter days, my sister and I would dig tunnels through the snow and at night, I would watch the aurora borealis create light up shapes on the snow and on our curtains inside. Here I started to paint at a very early age and eventfully studied the medium at the Emily Carr Institute of Art.
My work then and now was directly influenced from my experiences and environment that surrounded me. I layer glass powder colors and use a reverse carving technique to achieve detail, texture and a painterly style on my blown sculpture. I hope that by leaving ambiguity and creating gesture in the recognizable natural forms, that they become universal, creating their own story and sparking an emotion or a memory in the viewer.
How did you get started with glassblowing? After I finished my BFA, I worked at a nonprofit arts center in Vancouver, B.C. One of my co-workers saw my paintings and suggested that my work would translate really well to glass. She had been to the Pilchuck Glass School and gave me their catalogue. I had only seen perfume bottles and functional ware being created on the pipe, so I didn’t understand why she thought I should go there. I applied out of curiosity.
The second I walked in the Pilchuck hot shop my life changed completely. I became obsessed with the medium and that fall drove to Seattle to take lessons at night and then back to Vancouver the same night. In retrospect I realize that because I was so open to and intensely focused on working and learning this medium the path I was to follow unfolded before me.
I was extremely fortunate that both Rik Allen and Karen Willenbrink Johnsen (friendships that began during the Pilchuck session) asked me to assist them during that winter season. A couple of years later, Rik and I got married. I was regularly assisting Karen which led me to work with Bill and the Morris team. I was in awe of and had great respect for the passion and fearlessness that every member of that team had working with glass. It is a way of seeing and working that I strive to continue in my own shop and work.
What piece are you most proud of that you’ve created to date? One of my most recent pieces, See, Swan, that is currently on exhibit at the Habatat Galleries, in Royal Oak, Mich., and focuses on a nearly life-size swan and its reflection, has opened up a new dialogue and direction with glass and my subject matter.
Focusing on a local and magnificent natural phenomena — the northern migration of the swans through the Skagit Valley — See, Swan, is a meditation on this fragile existence.
See, Swan (2018) Blown, hand-sculpted, and engraved glass, steel, 39”w x 80”H x 12”d
Where do you find inspiration for your work? Inspiration is all around me in the natural world. I watch the weather and the seasons, the flora and the fauna, and how they respond to each other and connect to us as humans.
What are you most looking forward to as being an Artist in Residence this year? I am looking forward to working and being in the presence of such a magnificent and important collection of history. Stepping out of my familiar work environment, I can let go of my everyday routine stimulating and allowing space for growth and ideas. I’m excited to work with more transparent pieces utilizing the shop’s color pots and am designing some new pieces regarding this. I’m also really looking forward to working with The Henry Ford’s team and exchanging skill sets and ideas.
Eva Tanguay was a showstopper—one of vaudeville’s most charismatic stars. Long before performers like Madonna made their mark, Eva Tanguay was wowing ‘em on the vaudeville stage.
The flamboyant singing comedienne was the highest paid performer for over a decade during the heyday of American vaudeville in the early 1900s. Known as the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her most famous song, Eva’s bold, self-confident songs symbolized a new, emancipated American woman.
Although they are seldom seen in action, snowplows are an important part of the railroad scene.
This snowplow, operated in rural New England and Canada, is one of 36 built by Canadian Pacific's Angus shops in Montreal between 1920 and 1929. It is a 20-ton, wedge-type plow made for use on a single track - it throws snow on both sides of the unit. Built without a self-contained power source, the snowplow was pushed by one or two locomotives. Its ten-foot overall width can be increased to 16 feet by the extension of the large hinged wings on its sides. Moveable blades at the front, designed to clear the area between the rails, can be raised at crossings to avoid damage to equipment.
The snowplow's cab contains compressed air tanks that control the wings and blades, as well as providing air for a whistle used by the plow operator to signal the locomotive engineer. The cab also contains a heating stove. This plow was in service from 1923 until 1990.
It’s ironic – like, in the actual “opposite of what you’d expect” way as opposed to the “merely coincidental” way in which the term is often misused. The Ford Mustang is revered as one of the most “American” of all cars. Its name conjures up images of the Wild West. Its early logo incorporated red, white and blue stripes. The car’s very look is based on our country’s obsessions with speed and style. And yet Mustang Serial Number One, sold 50 years ago this month, went to a Canadian. Yeah, that’s irony.
On April 14, 1964, Eastern Provincial Airlines pilot Stanley Tucker walked into George Parsons Ford, a dealership perched on the eastern edge of the continent in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was love at first sight. The sharp-looking Wimbledon White convertible jumped out at the 33 year-old pilot, and he knew he had to have it. We don’t know the name of the person who sold the car to Tucker – but the pilot must have been quite a salesman himself. Somehow, he convinced Parsons Ford to break street date and sell him the car three days before April 17, when Ford officially released Mustang to the world. He took serial number 5F08F100001 home and, for a short time, was the general public’s only Mustang owner.
Mustang Serial Number One should not have been sold on that early date. In fact, it shouldn’t have been sold at all. The car was one of approximately 180 pre-production cars built at the Rouge between February 10 and March 5, 1964. These initial cars served two purposes: 1.) They eased Ford into full production by familiarizing workers and supervisors with the build process, and 2.) They formed a batch of physical cars that could be shipped to every major Ford dealer in time for the April 17 launch. Logically, the first cars built were sent to the farthest dealers – hence Serial Number One wound up 2,180 miles from Dearborn in St. John’s. (Twelve of these pre-production cars, incidentally, went to the New York World’s Fair for use in Ford’s Magic Skyway ride.)
Being a pre-production or, if you will, “practice” car, Serial Number One has a few quirks not seen in regular Mustangs. Careful observers will notice that the hood’s fit is a little crooked. The door lock knobs have no grommets at their bases. The front grille’s color tends more toward gray than the bluish hue seen on regular production cars. The engine block is painted gray instead of the black on later Mustangs. Little details like these changed after full production began on March 9.
Not long after Capt. Tucker made his purchase, Ford tracked him down and asked to have Serial Number One back. Not surprisingly, Tucker declined the request. He spent the next two years putting some 10,000 miles on his pony car. By early 1966, when nearly one million Mustangs had been sold and the car’s status as a Ford landmark was secure, the Blue Oval called again. This time, Ford offered Tucker a worthy trade: in exchange for returning Serial Number One, he could have the One Millionth Mustang, equipped to his specifications. Tucker agreed and, when filling out the order, covered the entire option sheet with single large “X.” The only extra he didn’t take was the High Performance 289 engine – it carried a shorter warranty period.
Tucker came to Dearborn on March 2, 1966, met Ford vice-president (and Mustang father) Lee Iacocca, and posed for photos with his new Silver Frost 1966 Mustang convertible. Meanwhile, Ford reclaimed Tucker’s much-loved Serial Number One and soon donated it to The Henry Ford. Seventeen years after the trade, when Mustang Monthly magazine caught up with Tucker, the pilot expressed some understandable regret that he’d let go of Serial Number One. As we celebrate 50 years of Mustang, though, we can be grateful that 5F08F100001 is preserved for all to enjoy. Many of our visitors, upon seeing the car in Henry Ford Museum, get that same gleam in their eyes that Stanley Tucker must have gotten all those years ago.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
A year and a half after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I found myself in an all-things-Canada souvenir shop in Toronto, which felt more like an Olympics pop-up shop. It didn’t matter that the Winter Games had come and gone – Canada was still very proud of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics and wanted to make sure you were, too, by still offering hooded sweatshirts, colorful scarves, and those popular maple leaf mittens, all embroidered with the 2010 logo.
Halfway through the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, I’m here in metro Detroit wishing I had access to some of the Union Jack souvenirs attendees can be seen wearing on TV. According to this story in the Guardian, there’s definitely no lack of enthusiasm, and variety, for souvenirs this time around. Whether you’re lucky enough to attend the Olympics in person or are on the hunt for a must-have gift for your family back at home, Olympics souvenirs reflect exciting times in sports history.
Here in The Henry Ford’s collections, this lapel ribbon from the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley was a welcomed souvenir for one lucky attendee as the Olympics returned to the United States for the first time since before World War II. Featuring a jumping ice skater and patriotic ribbons, you can almost picture hundreds of these badges proudly pinned to the coats of spectators as they watched their favorite athletes compete.
Which souvenirs do you think will become the most sought after for the 2012 Summer Games? Rebecca Bizonet, an archivist here at the Benson Ford Research Center, keeps this eraser (below) from the 2004 Summer Games in Athens on her desk as a small, but meaningful, reminder of the Olympics. Do you think any souvenirs from the London games will be in a museum some day?