The Advent of Flight and Flying in Massachusetts
The age of flight came our way first in the newspaper and magazine reports of the aeronautical experiments of the Boston Aeronautical Society, the ballooning and airship era from 1905 to 1915, the high altitude kite flying at the Blue Hill Observatory and the reports of experimenters in towns across the Commonwealth from all walks of life who were working on the challenge of manflight. We also had the reports of Roxbury’s Samuel Pierpont Langley experiments in the 1890s and then in December 1903 we had the news of the first successful flights of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and a few years later we learned of Glenn Curtiss’s first public flights and then his entry into aeronautical competitions in the United States and in Europe. The four years from 1908 through 1912 were the most active years of early flight in Massachusetts- that was our era of pioneer flight and the introduction of aviators and aviation to the public at large.
1908- Waltham Aeronautical Society Glider Meet
In June 1908 the Waltham Aeronautical Society hosted a glider competition at Bear Hill inviting the aeronautical societies from Tufts, Boston Tech (M.I.T), Harvard, and the Volkmann School. The glider meet a popular, public event was sponsored by the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway Company.
1909- Boston “1915” Exposition
A forward looking exposition of Boston’s historic past and bright future opened in November 1, 1909 at the former Museum of Art in Copley Square. On display were the products of Boston’s industries, exhibits contributed by Boston’s schools and colleges, photographs and maps of planned housing, transportation and highway projects presented by the city and state governments, and one unique and popular exhibition of aeronautical progress. This first exhibit of its kind in New England featured in center stage the Curtiss – Herring Reims Flyer just returned from France where it won the 1909 Gordon Bennett Cup Race with a world’s record speed of 43.35 mph in the 20km closed course race. This was where area aviation enthusiasts had an opportunity for the first time to have a close up view of a modern aircraft. This is where Starling Burgess saw what he needed to see to start his own design work on his own aircraft. This exhibit also had experimental aircraft built in the Boston area and shown for the first time in a public place.
1910-First National Exhibition of Aerial Craft
February 16-23 at Mechanics Hall, Huntington Ave. Boston hosted the first public exposition of aeroplanes, engines, gliders, airships and balloons. The exhibit managed by Chester I. Campbell included 18 prototype aeroplanes including the Herring Burgess Model A and a large number of aeronautical models and the full scale balloon of the Aero Club of New England.
1910- Boston Automobile Exposition
March 7-12 at Mechanics Hall. This exhibition of new automobiles also showcased the Herring-Burgess Model A, and an aeronautical exhibit assembled by the Burgess Company. Other aeronautical displays of model aircraft and full scale prototype aeroplanes from the Aerial Craft Exhibition in February were also on display
1910- Harvard – Boston Aero Meet
This first aero meet in the Eastern United States opened on September 3rd at the Harvard Aviation Field at Squantum, in Quincy. Originally planned for Soldiers Field in the Allston section of Boston in August it was moved to a more open area by Dorchester Bay where spectators, aviators and residents would have a safer and less congested environment. The aero meet drew professional aviators from England and from the Wright Company and Curtiss Company. Amateur fliers were also welcomed and the meet was a popular success and approximately 60,000 spectators attended the event. The aero meet officially closed on September 13 but on September 14 the Keith Theater Company of Boston engaged the meet’s star performer from England, Claude Grahame White who made demonstration flights and also made flights with passengers who paid $500 for the privilege.
1911- Second National Exhibition of Aerial Craft
This follow on to the very successful event of 1910 was held February 20-25 at Mechanics Hall. This Second Exposition also managed by Chester I. Campbell drew considerably more aeroplane exhibits than the year before, as new aviation companies from Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut showcased their prototype aeroplanes, engines, airships and kites. Specialty firms displayed a wide range of aviation tools, fabric, control cables and other materials for individual experimenters constructing their own aircraft or airship.
1911- Intercollegiate Glider Meet
Monday, May 29, 1911
The first intercollegiate glider meet was held under the auspices of the Harvard Aeronautical Society on its field at Squantum Monday May 29 - 30. The contests took place between 4 and 7.30 o'clock on the afternoons of these days. There were three events: duration, distance, and accuracy in landing. In each event a silver cup was awarded to the aviator winning first place and a medal for second place. The entries include: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, Tufts, University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, Waltham Aeronautical Society, Volkmann School and Harvard. Places in the events counted as follows: first, 5 points; second, 3 points; third, 1 point. The club winning the largest number of points would win the meet and the large silver loving cup offered by the "Intercollegiate Magazine". The Williams Society was forced to withdraw its entry on account of an accident to its glider. Admission to the glider meet was 50 cents, which included the use of chairs placed where the aviation meet grandstand stood. The price for automobiles was $1 with parking space provided.
1911- Metz Aero Meet
This aero meet planned and sponsored by Charles Metz, President of the Metz Automobile Company in Waltham MA, was held at the Metz Aviation Field (formerly the Gore Estate) in Waltham, MA, June 15-20. The event was organized in April/May 1911 by Charles Metz and W. H. Schwartz of the Eastern Aviation Co. The Aero Meet had all the elements it needed to be successful, an excellent location, an international group of aviators, good weather, support of the local communities and an attractive array of prizes. The attendance was very good, on the June 17 Bunker Hill holiday alone, this aero meet drew 30,000 visitors.
1911-Boston Aero Show
This weekend holiday event June 17-18 at the Readville Racetrack in Hyde Park section of Boston featured the experienced exhibition fliers Lincoln Beachey and Charles Witmer and was scheduled by the Curtiss Exhibition Company at an opportune time to take advantage the large crowds at the Readville automobile races and the similar opportunities over at Metz Aviation Meet in Waltham, 12 miles NW as the aeroplane flys.
1911- Harvard Boston Aero Meet
The second Harvard – Boston Aero Meet held at the Harvard Aviation field at Squantum was scheduled August 29 – September 4. At this second Harvard meet there was a rainy and windy first week and two days were added to the end of the schedule. The aviator line up was experienced and talented with Howard Gill, Tom Sopwith, Frank Coffyn, Lincoln Beachy, Harry Atwood, Claude Grahame White, Janes V. Martin, Arthur Stone, Earle Ovington and Clifford Webster. The highlight of the meet was the long distance flight on Labor Day, September 4 from Boston-Nashua-Worcester- Providence-Boston. Earle Ovington of Newton won the tri-state race which he finished at dusk in 3 Hours, 6 minutes and earned the first prize of $10,000.
1912- Aviation Meet, Atwood Park, Saugus
This aviation meet scheduled for May 30 – June 1 was sponsored by the General Aviation Company and Harry Atwood was the featured aviator along with Lincoln Beachey, George Gray, Phillips Page, Roy Waite, Ripley Bowman, Arch Freeman and Frank Terrell. This was an all star cast of exhibition fliers. The General Aviation Company had leased the old Saugus Racetrack and all the buildings on the site. The hangars were former horse barns from the time the harness racing track was active and the Hotel Saugus still on the site was envisioned as a future dormitory for student aviators. The planned use of the Racetrack for aero meets and other aviation events required that the old grandstand be refurbished and new bleachers erected. The Aviation Meet was to introduce the public to the new aviation grounds and perhaps result in interesting investors in making an investment in the General Aviation Company. The Aviation Meet started up on Thursday May 30 the weather was good and a large crowd arrived at the field to see Atwood and Freeman fly, and race motorcycles. Motor cycles only races were also held. Later that day and air mail event was held. Atwood took off with a mail bag with 500 cards and 300 envelopes bound for the Lynn Post Office three miles away across the Great Marsh. Heavy rain postponed any flights on May 31 but on June 1 the flying resumed and Arch Freeman repeated the air mail drop in Lynn. The General Aviation Company shortly there after walked away from the Saugus site and filed for bankruptcy. Harry Atwood and the other exhibition fliers flew away within a week or two. Roy Waite who had a flight school at Saugus stayed at Saugus and continued his flight instruction business for another four years.
1912 Third Boston Aero Meet, Harvard Field, Squantum
This aero meet scheduled for June 29 – July 6 was organized by William A. P. Willard who was a member of the Executive Committee for the 1910 and 1911 aviation meets at Squantum. Willard organized a group of local business leaders to hold an aviation meet on the Harvard Aviation Field, the scene of Harvard Boston Aero Meets of 1910 & 1911.
The plan of the field was materially changed from prior years, in 1912 the getaway course was laid out north and south (it was east–west in 1911) for nearly one half mile with a perimeter of approximately a mile and one-half. Price of admission was .25 cents for individuals and $1 for automobiles, in addition to the charge of .25 cents for each occupant. The parking area was expanded to accommodate 3,000 machines. The South end of the getaway had 25 cent seats, a section for complimentary tickets, and the $1 seats were at the south end of the grandstand. Next to the grandstand there was a two story judge’s stand and the press enclosure. The four wooden hangars now on the field were moved into a line on the south side of the grandstand and so placed that flat roofs could be thrown across between them, making a total of 18 hangars. For 1,000 feet southward extended a line of wire fence, in back of which several thousand standees could be accommodated. The aviators attending included: Harriet Quimby, Blanche Stuart Scott, Lincoln Beachey, Glenn Martin, Frank Terrill, Farnum Fish, Paul Peck, Charles Hamilton, Frank Coffyn and Arch Freeman. Attendance was good on Saturday June 29 and Sunday June 30 which was encouraging to the aviators who were concerned about the finances of the meet in regard to their negotiated guarantees and the prize money offered in the competitive events. July 1 was a day of reckoning; Harriet Quimby took off at 6 PM in her Bleriot XI with her passenger William A. P. Willard for a flight out and around Boston Light and she was returning to the field when at 1,000 feet over Dorchester Bay the Bleriot suddenly pitched down ejecting Harriet and her passenger Willard into the air. Both were killed and the Bleriot XI crashed into the bay. With their deaths the Third Boston Aero Meet was over and all remaining days on the schedule were canceled.