In the United States, Henry Ford received more publicity than most of the other auto manufacturers in the early 1900's. But he wasn't alone. Characters in Yours in a Hurry ,which takes place from 1908 to 1912, have experiences with other early automobiles.
It's said that Ettore Bugatti, an engineer from Cologne, Germany built the first Type 10 model in his basement. That year, 1909, he took his family in that Bugatti to the Alsace region of Germany looking for a place to build a factory.
In YIAH, Harry Spoon, a Glenn Curtiss mechanic, travels from Reims, France to Brescia, Italy with his co-workers and the disassembled aeroplanes via train while Curtiss rides in a new Bugatti like the one shown at right.
The Packard 30
Hiram Cowell, Anna Hartle's employer, takes her to meet her cousin, Ida Beveridge in style in his new Packard 30. With its bright red color, retractable top for inclimate weather, and white wall tires, it's attractive to his real estate clients, too. As he tells Anna, "The first couple I took property hunting yesterday had neve ridden in a vehicle like this before and were quite impressed!"
The Benz 22-50 PS Limousine was large for its time. Anna, YIAH heroine, first rides in one when she goes to San Antonio for an interview with the successful developer, H.C. Thorman. As he takes her to visit several of his housing developments he has to assist her in exiting the automobile. It's a high step. Thorman notes, "It works well for rough roads and terrain with higher ground clearance and larger track width."
See For Yourself
You can find these automobiles and others in automotive specialty and other museums around the country. The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland is the closest one to us We have visited them as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska's Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California.
Next time: Anna's professional contemporary Clara Pierce Wolcott Driscoll Booth
It's 1909 and France is the world center of aviation. The first international air meet is beginning in Reims. Prestigious contests with cash prizes and trophies for best distance, altitude, and speed attract one hundred thousand spectators to Bethany Plain airfield the first day. Industrialists, diplomats, and royalty are arriving for the beginning ceremonies. Mrs. Roosevelt and her children will be here with the American ambassador since the President is occupied with the Panama Canal project. What was it like to be there? Let's pretend that Harry, one of Glenn Curtiss's mechanics, is showing us around.
Mounted dragoons are keeping the lines in order. As we enter the gate we see ornate grandstands, hurriedly built hangars, an aerial race course with pylons at its four corners—and a sea of mud. The truckloads of ashes and stones they brought in last night help a little, but walking in this long skirt is challenging. A colorful poster for the event shows a beautiful mademoiselle and a variety of aeroplanes in flight.
Black flags are flying this morning at the top of the pylon flagstaff near the judges' box and near the grandstands. Harry explains. "They can't fly right now due to weather conditions. The shapes and colors of the signal flags tell which competitor is flying, the event, the weather conditions, if a record was made, and if a good landing was made within the rules."
"How can they tell when conditions are good for flying?" someone asks. "There are lots of ways. See those cups up there? You can measure the breeze by how fast they go 'round," he says, revolving his right hand for effect. "Some hold a handkerchief at arm's length to see if and how it flutters. And then there's Curtiss's method. He doesn't smoke, but he gives cigars to those who do and then watches how the smoke rises. When it's straight up, it's peak flying weather."
We notice that there are both biplanes and monoplanes. It's surprising how small they are, most made of wooden sticks, strips of fabric, and piano wire. Harry points to the seat in Louis Bleriot's monoplane, a slender craft of waterproofed fabric, steel tubes, ash and bamboo with a wing span of twenty-five feet. "In this monoplane Bleriot has to crouch low to avoid the elements. In a biplane, the flyer sits bolt upright between the struts. Construction is a do-it-yourself job. They arrive in several packages and then have to be assembled."
We want to know about the flyers. Harry tells us that twenty-three flyers have registered, but few are experienced. The Wrights won't be here. Instead they are exhibiting their machines in Germany with hopes that the German military, unlike the United States military at this time, will purchase a few Wright aeroplanes.
Most wear a business suit, or golf knickers with a stiff high collar. We can easily tell an Anglo from a European. The Anglos are clean shaven while the Europeans sport beards. Many French flyers wear long pointed wax moustaches. "Some are more casual," Harry says as he points to one flyer sporting a cap with the visor turned sportingly to the rear. "They wear goggles, as there's no windshield."
The weather improves and one flyer goes onto the field. He is dressed unseasonably warm in a heavy sweater and a leather jacket. Harry reminds us that the man will be quite cold up there, out in the open with nothing between him and the elements.
Later that day we see some events. They only have to take off, fly a short distance, and land in one piece. For the first time rules have been established for flying contests. Engines aren't reliable enough for a sudden start, so they'll get blocks of time for competition.
Anglo-Frenchman Henri Farman comes in stiff and cold after dark, illuminated by automobile headlights. He has to be carried from his machine, but we assume that the $10,000 distance prize will ease his hardship.
We leave at the end of the first day, and thank Harry for his time. Later that week, we hear that Curtiss has won the most important contest of the week, The Gordon Bennett Cup, by completing a predetermined two laps of twenty kilometers in the fastest time. Louis Bleriot had been favored to win given his successful English Channel crossing one month earlier. Even the crowd couldn't tell who had won until the announcement. Curtiss won by only six seconds. The prize money is important, but the large Gordon Bennett Cup coming to America is also sweet.
Photo: Amazon.com image
Sources: Numerous books and on-line sources, including most which are Glenn Curtiss related, report on the 1909 Reims air meet. A good detailed account is The First Air Race by Owen S. Lieberg.
Next time: Ford wasn't the only auto maker in the early 1900's
The Magnificent Moisants is the title of Doris L. Rich's book about another pioneering aviation family which was in many ways more diverse and interesting than the Wrights. Alfred, John and Matilde Moisant were three children of French-Canadian immigrants who settled in Illinois before moving to California. The siblings had big dreams. But first they needed money.
Alfred and John went to El Salvador in 1896 and became successful in sugar cane. They also found themselves in the center of political unrest. John led failed coup attempts against President Figueroa in 1907 and 1909. Fortunately for him, at that point President Jose Santos Zelya of Nicaragua asked him to go to France to learn more about aeroplanes.
The Family Takes Flight
John took to flight with the same enthusiasm as he did to politics. After attending the first international air show in Reims, France in 1909, he knew that he wanted a career in aviation and learned to fly under Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly the English Channel. On August 17, 1910, John became the first American to fly over the Channel and the first ever to do that with a passenger, his mechanic. His often time flying companion, Paree, shown with him at right, was not on that particular flight.
Alfred was the business manager for the Moisant International Aviators which manufactured aeroplanes, taught flying, and barnstormed across the United States, Mexico and Cuba, winning prestigious air races until John died in a crash on December 31, 1910.
Matilde became the second American woman to achieve a pilot's license after her colleague, Harriet Quimby, subject of an earlier blog. Matilde was the first woman to fly in Mexico while the Moisant troop was there performing for President Madero's inauguration events. During their stay she flew over the President's patio and successfully dropped a bouquet of flowers and a thank you note. He is said to have proudly told the story for days after to all who would listen.
Unfortunately, President Madero's opponents were forming alliances under Emiliano Zapata. Harriet Quimby returned to the states, but the rest of the Moisant team continued their scheduled events. Soon their train was pulled off the tracks in Torreon, about three hundred miles north of Guadalajara, en route to Chihuahua and they were surrounded while rebels laid siege to the city. After lengthy negations between the rebels and Mexican soldiers, they were released. Matilde was given credit for her cool head during the difficult situation.
Doris L. Rich's book is a good read. Another source is www.wikipedia.com which has pages on John, Matilde and the Moisant Aviation School, as well as the many racing and exhibition events and awards the family encountered. You can read more about the family's adventures when Yours in a Hurry is published.
Photo Credits: John Moisant, Library of Congress www.loc.gov; Matilde, www.wikipedia.com
Next time: The first international air race and exhibition in Reims
I remember being at my paternal grandfather's house on Friday nights. He sat in his favorite chair with a brew and Planters Peanuts. He was faithful to Planters and collected memorabilia of Mr. Peanut with the monocle and top hat. Grandpa's eyes were glued to the black and white 17 inch television screen: Friday night fights. He was too young to remember the Fight of the Century, but my older grandfather, Purl, a character in Yours in a Hurry, remembered it well.
James Jackson Jeffries
Jeffries lived on an Ohio farm until his parents moved to Los Angeles. The boilermaker became a fighter and from June, 1899 until the end of his career he won the world heavyweight title seven times.
After retiring, he slowly lost his athletic physique until he reached 314 pounds. When approached to come out of retirement to fight the then heavyweight champion Jack Johnson on July 4, 1910, he began rigorous training. By July 4 he was down to 226 pounds. But he was also three years older than Johnson and hadn't fought since retiring in 1904.
John Arthur "Jack" Johnson, the "Galveston Giant" was an unusual boxer for his time. The child of former slaves grew up in an integrated neighborhood in Galveston, and many of his friends were white. We were all the same, he would say—all poor. That mind set was unusual, especially for the South.
He left Galveston for Dallas and then Manhattan working as manual laborer. At each job he found opportunities to be mentored in boxing and found he was good at it. He returned to Galveston to start his professional career. In 1903 he became the World Colored Heavyweight Champion, and in 1908 he overcame discrimination to become the World Heavyweight Champion.
The Fight of the Century
The Jackson-Jeffries fight was held in Reno. The pre-fight frenzy was nearly as exciting as the fight. Twenty thousand were in town. Most were rooting for Jeffries. Famous pugilists John L. Sullivan and "Gentleman Jim" Corbett who had feuded for many years were photographed shaking hands before the fight.
Sadly, racism wasn't absent from the event. A newspaper reported the comment, "If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbors."*
Well, after 15 rounds, the black man won. Jeffries put up a good fight, but just wasn't in condition to match Johnson who would remain the world champion until 1915.
Racial tensions were high. African-Americans were proud and showed it openly, celebrating across the country. Many whites were upset and twenty people were killed in race riots resulting from the fight that July 4.
The moving picture made of the fight and the pre-fight activities was banned from theaters in most states at the time, but you can see them on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzAS-wihuVI
Quote and photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Johnson_(boxer)
Next time: The Moisants—another successful aviation pioneer family