Birth Of Aviation  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Glenn Curtiss never anticipated becoming one of the founding fathers of American aviation.   In fact he had no plans of even getting into the aviation business at all in 1906. 

Curtiss would go on to establish the first aircraft manufacturing company in the United States introducing seaplanes and flying boat designs.  He was also a major supplier of planes for the military.

Curtiss was preoccupied with his successful motorcycle company and building the fastest motorcycle in the world.  In 1907, he was named the "Fastest Man on Earth" after setting a motorcycle speed record of 136.3 miles per hour.  During this time he also built a few engines for airships.  

He happened to be displaying some of his engines at a New York show when Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, walked up to him.  Bell was intrigued by the possibility of flight.  He heard a rumor about two brothers named Wright who had actually built a working airplane but he wasn’t sure the rumor was true.

The telephone pioneer was looking for a light, powerful engine and the innovative V-8 engine Curtiss had on display interested him.  Curtiss like the Wright Brothers started out in the bicycle business before moving on to building and racing motorcycles.      

Bell shared some of his ideas with Curtiss and he also got excited about the idea of building and flying a fast winged craft.  In 1907, Bell invited Curtiss to join the Aerial Experiment Association in Hammondsport, N.Y.  Their goal was to build a practical airplane that would carry a pilot and fly in the air under its own power.    

Curtiss’ fascination with speed naturally carried over to aviation.  On July 4, 1908 he fired up the engines in June Bug, climbed into the pilot’s seat and took off.  He set the aircraft down just a few feet short of a red flag marking a full mile. 

The aviation pioneer flew a distance of 5,090 feet.  It was the first officially-recognized, publicly-observed flight in America.  The aircraft’s name came from Alexander Graham Bell who watched a test flight of the plane and said the machine flew just like a June Bug so that’s what they called it.  

Curtiss would go on to establish the first aircraft manufacturing company in the United States introducing seaplanes and flying boat designs.  He was also a major supplier of planes for the military. 

On Sept 30, Swann Auction Galleries, New York, featured a selection of early Curtiss aircraft photographs and memorabilia including items signed by Glenn Curtiss in its Printed & Manuscript Americana auction.  The collection included images of his two famous airplanes, Red Wing and June Bug.  Most of the items were circa 1907-1914.  Included in the collection were three images of Bell and his aviators.

The photographs belonged to the family of Walter Layton Vroom.  Vroom was a clerk in the Curtiss Engineering Company from 1918 to 1920.  The items sold for $5,280.

Vintages photos like his freeze history in time and provide a clear picture into the past and the evolution of aviation history.

Printed Americana

Photographic Archive; from early airplane manufacturer Grover C. Loening; approximately 400 photographs, blueprints, letters, documents and memorabilia; circa 1913-1975;  $4,182.

Manuscript Journals; by the captain of the whaling bark Iris; 24 inked, stamped or penciled whale drawings; 115  journal pages plus memoranda; two volumes; 1844 to 1848; 12 inches by 8 inches;   $20,400.  

Lithograph Portfolio; George Catlin’s North American Indian portfolio; 25 hand-colored lithographs; mounted on board; as issued; 1844; 20 text pages; each 22 inches by 15 ½ inches;  $24,000.

Manuscript Petition; from the Cherokees; pleading to be spared from the Trail of Tears; 13 leaves; each about 15 ½ inches by 10 inches;  1836;  $78,000.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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