Glenn Curtiss Sells First Airplane in the United States

Curtiss at Grande Semaine d'Aviation in France in 1909
Curtiss at Grande Semaine d’Aviation in France in 1909

On June 16, 1909, Glenn Curtiss sold the first airplane in the US, the “Golden Flyer”, for $5,000 to the New York Aeronautic Society. He had other “firsts” to his name as well: first officially witnessed flight, first long-distance flight in the US, and he won at the world’s first international air meet in France. But, unlike the Wright brothers, he didn’t start out wanting to work with airplanes.

Glenn Curtiss (1878-1930) started out as a bicycle messenger for Western Union. He began racing bicycles, opened his own shop and eventually became interested in motorcycles. Glenn was good with machines and manufactured his first motorcycle in 1902. Riding the motorcycle himself, the next year he set a land speed record, 64 miles per hour for one mile.

He even set an unofficial world speed record in 1907 on a 40 horsepower, V8-engine motorcycle that he had designed and built. Called “Hell Rider” Curtiss and dubbed “the fastest man in the world” by the newspapers, his record wasn’t beaten until 1930.

Curtiss on his V8-engine motorcycle (Originally published in the February 1907 issue of The Motorcycle Illustrated)
Curtiss on his V8-engine motorcycle (Originally published in the February 1907 issue of The Motorcycle Illustrated)

Curtiss was invited to join the Aerial Experiment Association, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1908. Over several years, they produced four aircraft. The third, called “June Bug”, was the plane Curtiss flew on July 4, 1908 to win a Scientific American Trophy and $2,500. This was the first pre-announced flight of a “heavier-than-air” machine in the US.

Also in 1908, he was issued the first license by the Aero Club of America, but only because they were given in alphabetical order. (Orville Wright received license #5.)

Curtiss flying the "June Bug" on July 4, 1908 (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)
Curtiss flying the “June Bug” on July 4, 1908 (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

The first long-distance flight between Albany, NY and New York City occurred on May 29, 1910 and came with a $10,000 prize from Joseph Pulitzer. Curtiss also gave a simulated bombing demonstration to the Navy around this time. He continued to work with the US Navy developing ways to use aircraft, training the first Naval Aviator, Lt. Theodore Ellyson, as well as developing and flying the first seaplane.

His company, The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, was very successful with large government contracts during WWI. But after the war ended, the contracts dried up and the company was reorganized. In 1920, Curtiss cashed out his stock for $32 million and retired to Florida. He continued establishing corporations and stayed involved in civic groups and activities until his death. In 1930, on a trip to New York, he became ill with appendicitis. He died from complications after his appendectomy. He was buried in the family plot in Hammondsport, New York.

The first pilot's license issued in the US was to Curtiss.
The first pilot’s license issued in the US was to Curtiss.

Famous Daily: First Airplane Sold
Wikipedia: Glenn Curtiss

The Edison Ore-Milling Company

Photograph of Thomas Edison c. 1880 by Victor Daireaux
Photograph of Thomas Edison c. 1880 by Victor Daireaux

Iron ore was scarce in the 1870s, especially in the eastern part of the country. The deposits were of poor quality and it was difficult and costly to separate it from rock debris. Edison discovered that beach sand contained deposits of iron ore and believed that extracting it would be a cheaper alternative to the traditional methods.

In his lab he developed a process to extract the iron using a large electromagnet. In 1881, he formed the Edison Ore-Milling Company. William Kennedy Dickson and mining expert John Birkinbine were in charge of refining the process further. Unfortunately, the market for his iron wasn’t sufficient to make a profit and the business was shut down after a few years.

But Edison wasn’t finished. He decided to adapt his process to crushed rocks from the mine. He opened a small plant as a trial in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania near an existing iron mine. Apparently satisfied with the results, in 1889, he completed one of the world’s largest ore-crushing mills. Located in Ogdensberg, New Jersey, it contained three giant electromagnets and was expected to process 1200 tons of iron ore a day. This time he was thwarted by technical difficulties.

Some of the buildings at the Ogden mine c. 1895
Some of the buildings at the Ogden mine c. 1895

Focusing back on electricity, Edison formed the Edison General Electric Company in 1890, but this was just a short foray back into that world. In 1892, he merged his company with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, and turned his attention back to mining ore. He was determined to make it work, or just fascinated with iron ore, but he said that he was determined to do something so big that “people will forget that my name ever was connected with anything electrical.”

So, in 1892, Edison sold some General Electric stock to raise capital, and closed the plant for upgrades. You may guess how things went since we all associate Edison’s name with electricity. The same technical problems existed as before, and it was difficult to get enough customers to make a profit. He persisted until finally in 1899, he admitted that the venture was a failure and closed the company.

But wait! All wasn’t lost. The milling business had created a large quantity of waste sand that was particularly well suited to making cement. In 1899, once again Edison formed a company, this time the Edison Portland Cement Company. Based in New Village, New Jersey, the company had staying power and in 1922 even supplied the cement for Yankee Stadium.

When asked about the financial losses in the milling business, he famously said, “it’s all gone, but we had a hell of a good time spending it.”

Yankee Stadium in the 1920s, not long after it was built
Yankee Stadium in the 1920s, not long after it was built