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 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.)
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.