Early Aviation Album: Photographs of Early Flights and Aeronautical Pioneers

Miss Julia Clark, Aviatress, ca. 1911, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Miss Julia Clark, Aviatress., ca. 1911, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Now available online are 316 images, ca. 1910-1916, by Captain Harry A. Erickson of the United States Air Service. The photographs, which are part of an album held by the DeGolyer Library, depict early planes and aviation pioneers. The images show early air shows, the testing and successful flight of seaplanes and floatplanes, and activities on North Island, San Diego, where the aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss had a flying school until the breakout of World War I. Curtiss biplanes, seaplanes, and floatplanes feature prominently throughout the album, as do Wright aircraft, Antoinette monoplanes, and Martin aircraft. Notable early aviators, many of whom belonged to the group known as the Early Birds of Aviation, also make appearances in this album. Among them are Farnum Fish, Roy Knabenshue, Lincoln Beachey, Archibald Hoxsey, Charles Hamilton, Victor Herbster, Theodore Ellyson, Julia Clark (one of the first female pilots), among many more.

Hoxsey [sic] Reading Barograph, 1911, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Hoxey [sic] Reading Barograph, 1911., DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Early flight was a risky venture. The album shows airplane accidents, crashes, and mishaps. Notable among these are images of the last flight of Archibald Hoxsey, who set an altitude record of 11,474 feet in his Wright Model B on December 26, 1910. Hoxsey was killed five days later while attempting to break his own altitude record at an airshow in Los Angeles. The Wright Brothers, who had employed Hoxsey, personally paid for his funeral. Other aeronautical accidents include Victor Herbster’s crash of his Wright B seaplane, which occurred in March 1912. Herbster was a member of the first Naval Aviation unit, which was training on North Island with Glenn Curtiss at the time of the crash.

[Crowd Gathered Around Floatplane], ca. 1911, DeGolyer Library, SMU

[Crowd Gathered Around Floatplane], ca. 1911, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

North Island was the site of many flying firsts, including one of the first flights of heavier-than-air seacraft off of water. This flight was performed in a modified Curtiss pusher, which took off from San Diego Bay in 1911 and was piloted by Glenn Curtiss himself. Other images of seaplane and floatplane flights show Curtiss flight school students and pilot instructors in dual-control Curtiss floatplanes, early Curtiss F seaplanes in flight over San Diego Bay, and Glenn Curtiss piloting an early floatplane to the shore where a crowd of spectators gathered to view it.

Instructor Doc Wildman, 1916, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Instructor Doc Wildman, 1916, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Shortly before the beginning of World War I, the U.S. Army established a flight school on the south end of North Island. Here Army officers received flight instructions from Glenn Curtiss and a number of other pilots, including Doc Wildman. Among the officers under instruction in the 1914-1915 time period was Walter Taliaferro, for whom Camp Taliaferro, a World War I flight training center in Fort Worth, Texas, was named. Also on North Island at the time was Katherine Stinson, an early female pilot who is credited as being the first woman to fly over London and the first to fly at night. Stinson was a member of the Stinson family, a prominent aviation family from San Antonio, Texas, who founded the Stinson Aircraft Company.

This fascinating album offers a glimpse into the early days of aviation in the United States, and showcases the wide array of aviation events and activities occurring during the period before World War I. The images contained within the album depict not only early airplanes, but also their development over the course of a number of years, and portray some of the early versions of the more well-known aircraft, such as the Curtiss J-N “Jenny,” which was used throughout World War I. Images of these early planes, as well as the men and women who flew them, give important insight into the early days of flight in the United States.


Ralph Cooper, “Victor D. Herbster, 1885-1946,” Early Birds of Aviation, Inc., http://www.earlyaviators.com/eherbste.htm

“Hoxsey’s Winnings for His Mother,” New York Times, January 2, 1911, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1911/01/02/104852875.html?pageNumber=1

Dee Wedemeyer, “Katherine Stinson Otero, 86, Dies; Pioneer Aviator and Stunt Flier,” New York Times, July 11, 1977, http://www.nytimes.com/1977/07/11/archives/katherine-stinson-otero-86-dies-pioneer-aviator-and-stunt-flier.html


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