A Runway 25 Miles Long: Daytona Beach 1906 - 1929Part One - from the beginnings (1906) to Ruth Law (1913-1916)
The gasoline-powered automobile came to fruition in about 1896, with car inventors around the world bring out their models. In the United States, one of the very first pioneers was Ransom Olds (1864-1950) who founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing, Michigan, on August 21, 1897. The company was bought by Samuel L. Smith, a copper and lumber magnate, in 1899. The new company was relocated to Detroit, and renamed the Olds Motor Works. Smith became President, while Olds was installed as vice president and general manager.
The Preliminaries: 1906-1910The 1906 Auto Races
As an event held as part of the subsidiary entertainment at the 1906 Auto Races, Israel Ludlow, a successful New York lawyer and an aviation enthusiast, sent one of his gliders down, to be flown as an exhibition with Charles K. Hamilton, a "diminutive, and very jug-eared, redhead"as the pilot. Hamilton was launched into the Daytona Beach on January 17, 1906. Unfortunately, after only a few seconds in the air, a wing rib broke and the glider crashed. Hamilton was unhurt, however. Another flight a few days later would also end in a crash.
March 29, 1909
A previous attempt not having daunted him, on March 29 Bates tried again, and this time his machine rose into the air and flew for 460 yards before crashing. According to an article Bates wrote for Aeronautics magazine, published in April, 1909, "the machine was on the average about 10 to 12 feet above the ground, but on one occasion rose as high as 20 feet."
However, there were insufficient witnesses to this achievement, and so Bates' was not recorded as the first man to make an airplane flight in Florida. (A photo does exist of Bates in his craft, lined up next to Louis Strang in his Buick racer, sometime during the auto races in March 1909. There's even a starter with his pistol raised high in the air. It is presumed that this was a staged photograph, however, as local papers do not report that such a contest ever took place.) (The first man to officially fly a plane in Florida was Lincoln Beachey, who flew over Orlando in February, 1910.)
Cars and planes share the beach
Yearly Aviation Comes to Daytona Beach1911: First Sustained Powered Flight at Daytona Beach
Civic leaders and hoteliers in Daytona Beach decided to organize a flying exhibition to bring tourists to the area, and in February 1911, they signed Glenn Curtiss to a contract for $3,500. One of his pilots, John A. D. McCurdy, was to make three flights from the beach in March.
These flights turned out to be very successful, with hundreds of people lining the beach to watch them. Perhaps one reason why so many people came to see the flights was because of McCurdy’s fame. On January 30, McCurdy had taken off from Key West in an attempt to fly to Cuba, and win an $8,000 prize for so doing. (Prior to this, only Louis Bleriot had successfully completed an over-water flight, across the English Channel.) McCurdy didn’t make it to Cuba by air, being forced to ditch, but he did set two new records--the longest flight to date, and the world’s longest flight over water, approximately 90 miles. (McCurdy was picked up by the U.S.S. Terry, one of four U.S. torpedo boats stationed along his route to ensure his safety, and thus arrived in Cuba via ship.)
1912: Aviation Becomes a Yearly Staple at Daytona Beach
Burgess, who had designed yachts before turning to airplanes, supplied a Burgess-Wright airplane, and a pilot- Harvard graduate Phil Page. Burgess also had a hangar built, just south of the hotel. Burgess himself test-flew the plane five times on January 12, 1912.
The aircraft seated its pilot and passenger side by side on the bottom wing (no cockpits yet), and women wearing the ankle-length skirts of the period had those skirts cinched around the ankles with a strap to prevent them from blowing in the breeze (and thus was born the hobble skirt, a fashion that is actually still in vogue today (www.hobbleskirt.com/About.aspx.)
Ruth Law and Mrs. Robert Goelet in a model "B" Wright airplane
at Daytona Beach. Notice they are sitting on the bottom wing, not in a cockpit.
1913: Ruth Law Flies Passengers At Clarendon Hotel
Law’s husband and agent, Charles Oliver, signed the contracts, and for the next four years Law spent the winter season at Daytona Beach, not only flying passengers for the Clarendon, but also making exhibition flights. Law would fly two planes, a Wright aircraft for passenger flights, and a Curtiss pusher for the demos.
1915: Ruth Law and the Grapefruit
There are two stories about one happened next. One says that Law had not been given a baseball before she took off, so a mechanic handed her a grapefruit to use instead. She took off from the beach, flew over the field, and dropped the grapefruit down to Robinson. The grapefruit "tore through Robinson’s outstretched catcher’s mitt, thudded on his chest, and knocked him flat on his back," evoking a cheer from the crowd.
The other story is that Law had a passenger in her plane that day, and it was he who tossed out, first a grapefruit, then a baseball, which Robinson caught without incident. Not surprisingly, it’s the first story that was the more popular in the telling.
Part 2 to be uploaded December 15, 2009
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