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Glenn Curtiss

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Template:Infobox Person

File:Curtiss plaque.JPG
Commemorative plaque. Claim on the plaque is controversial regarding invention of the aileron.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss (May 21, 1878 – July 23, 1930) was an American aviation pioneer and founder of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, now part of Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

Birth and early career

Curtiss was born in 1878 in Hammondsport, New York to Frank Richmond Curtiss and Lua Andrews. Although he only received a formal education up to Grade 8, his early interest in mechanics and inventions was evident at his first job at the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company (later Eastman Kodak Company) in Rochester, New York.[1] He invented a stencil machine adopted at the plant and later built a rudimentary camera to study photography.[1] On March 7, 1898, Curtiss married Lena Pearl Neff, daughter of Guy L. Neff, in Hammondsport, NY.

Bicycles and motorcycles

Curtiss began his career as a Western Union bicycle messenger, a bicycle racer, and bicycle shop owner. In 1901 he developed an interest in motorcycles when internal combustion engines became more available. In 1902 Curtiss began manufacturing motorcycles with his own single cylinder engines. His first motorcycle actually had a tomato can for a carburetor. In 1903 he set a motorcycle land speed record at Template:Convert for one mile (1.6 km). When E.H. Corson of the Indian Motorcycle Company visited Hammondsport in July 1904, he was amazed that the entire Curtiss motorcycle enterprise was sited in the back room of the modest "shop". Corson's motorcycles had just been trounced the week before by "Hell Rider" Curtiss in an endurance race from New York to Cambridge, Maryland. [2]

In 1907, Curtiss set a world record of Template:Convert, on a Template:Convert V8 powered motorcycle of his own design and construction. He would remain "the fastest man in the world," to use the title the newspapers gave him, until 1911.[3] By this time, Curtiss' success at racing had solidified his reputation as a leading maker of high-performance motorcycles.[4]

Aviation pioneer

Curtiss, the engine man

File:Curtis-Glenn 021.jpg
Glenn H. Curtiss's pilot license

In 1904, Curtiss became a supplier of engines for California "aeronaut", Tom Baldwin. In that same year, Baldwin's California Arrow, powered by a Curtiss 9 HP V-twin motorcycle engine, became the first successful dirigible in America.[5] In 1907, Curtiss was approached by Alexander Graham Bell to provide a suitable engine for heavier-than-air flight experimentation. Bell regarded Curtiss as "the greatest motor expert in the country"[6] and invited Curtiss to join his Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). Over the next two years the AEA produced four aircraft, each one an improvement over the last.


Curtiss primarily designed the AEA's third aircraft, Aerodrome #3, the famous June Bug and became its test pilot, undertaking most of the proving flights. On July 4, 1908, he flew 5,080 feet, to win the Scientific American Trophy and its $2,500 purse.[7] This was considered to be the first pre-announced public flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine in America. For this flight and for other achievements that were to follow, Curtiss received U.S. Pilot's license #1 from the Aero Club of America. The flight of the June Bug propelled Glenn Curtiss and aviation firmly into public awareness. At the culmination of the Aerial Experiment Association's experiments, Curtiss offered to purchase the rights to Aerodrome #3, essentially using it as the basis of his "Curtiss No.1", the first of his production series of pusher aircraft. [8]

Aviation competitions

In August 1909, Curtiss competed in the world's first air meet, the Grande Semaine d'Aviation flying contest at Rheims, France, organized by the Aero-Club de France. The Wrights, who were selling their machines to customers in Germany at the time, elected to not personally compete. There were two Wright aircraft at the meet but they did not win any events. Curtiss went on to win the overall speed event, flying a 10 km course at Template:Convert in just under 16 minutes, six seconds faster than runner-up Louis Bleriot and winning the Gordon Bennett Cup. For this he was awarded French pilot's license No. 2 (Bleriot, who flew the English Channel in 1909, had been awarded license No. 1).

The pre-war years

During the 1909-1910 period, Curtiss employed a number of demonstration pilots including Eugene Ely, Charles Hamilton and Lincoln Beachey. Aerial competitions and demonstration flights across North America helped to introduce aviation to a curious public; Curtiss took full advantage of these occasions to promote his products.[9]

This was a busy period for Glenn Curtiss in general. In May 1910, he flew from Albany to New York City to make the first long-distance flight between two major cities in the U.S. For this 137-mile flight, he won a $10,000 prize offered by publisher Joseph Pulitzer and was awarded permanent possession of the Scientific America Trophy. A month later he provided a simulated bombing demonstration to Naval officers at Hammondsport. Two months later, Lt. Jacob E. Fickel demonstrated the feasibility of shooting at targets on the ground from an aircraft with Curtiss serving as pilot. One month later, in September, he trained the first woman pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott. The fictional character Tom Swift who first appeared in 1910 in Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle and Tom Swift and His Airship has been said to have been based on Glenn Curtiss.[10] The Tom Swift books are set in a small town on a lake in upstate New York.[11]

Naval aviation

On November 14, 1910, Curtiss demonstration pilot Eugene Ely took off from a temporary platform mounted on the forward deck of the cruiser USS Birmingham. His successful takeoff and ensuing flight to shore marked the beginning of a relationship between Curtiss and the Navy that remained significant for decades. At the end of 1910, Curtiss established a winter encampment at San Diego to teach flying to Army and Naval personnel. It was here that he trained Lt. Theodore Ellyson, who was to become U.S. Naval Aviator #1. The original site of this winter encampment is now part of Naval Air Station North Island and is referred to by the Navy as "The Birthplace of Naval Aviation".

Through the course of that winter, Curtiss was able to develop a float (pontoon) design that would enable him to take off and land on water. Demonstrations of this advancement were of great interest to the Navy, but more significant as far as the Navy was concerned, was Eugene Ely successfully landing his Curtiss pusher (the same aircraft used to take off from the Birmingham) on a makeshift platform mounted on the rear deck of the battleship USS Pennsylvania. This was the first arrester-cable landing on a ship and the precursor of modern day carrier operations.

Curtiss custom built floats and adapted them onto a Model D so it could take off and land on water to prove the concept. Back in Hammondsport six months later, in July 1911, Curtiss sold the U.S. Navy their first aircraft, the A-1 Triad. The A-1, which was primarily a seaplane, was equipped with retractable wheels, also making it the first amphibian. Curtiss trained the Navy's first pilots and built their first aircraft. For this he is considered in the USA to be "The Father of Naval Aviation". The A-1 was immediately recognized as so obviously useful, it was purchased by the U.S. Navy, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Britain. Curtiss won the Collier Trophy for designing this aircraft.[12]

Around this time Curtiss met the retired English naval officer John Cyril Porte who was looking for a partner to produce an aircraft with him in order to win the Daily Mail prize for the first transatlantic crossing. In 1912 Curtiss produced the two-seat "Flying Fish", a larger craft that became classified as a flying boat because the hull sat in the water; it featured an innovative notch in the hull that Porte had recommended for breaking clear of the water at takeoff. Curtiss correctly surmised that this configuration was more suited to building a larger long-distance craft that could operate from water, and was also more stable when operating from a choppy surface. In collaboration with Porte, in 1914 Curtiss designed the "America", a larger flying boat with two engines, for the Atlantic crossing.

World War I

WIth the start of World War I Porte returned to service in the Royal Navy's Seaplane Experimental Station, which subsequently purchased several models of the America from Curtiss, now called the H-4. Porte licensed and further developed the designs, constructing a range of Felixstowe long-range patrol aircraft, and from his experience passed back improvements to the hull to Curtiss. The later British designs were sold to the U.S. forces, or built by Curtiss as the F5L. The Curtiss factory also built a total of 68 "Large Americas" which evolved into the H-12, the only American designed and American built aircraft that saw combat in World War I.

As 1916 approached, it was feared that the United States would be drawn into the conflict. The U.S. Army Air Corps ordered the development of a simple, easy to fly and maintain two-seat trainer. Curtiss created the JN-4 "Jenny" for the Army, and the N-9 seaplane version for the Navy. It is one of the most famous products of the Curtiss company, and thousands were sold to the military of the United States, Canada and Britain. Civilian and military aircraft demand was booming and this year saw their operations grow to employ 18,000 workers in Buffalo and 3,000 workers in Hammondsport.

In 1917 the U.S. Navy commissioned Curtiss to design a long-range, four-engined flying boat large enough to hold a crew of five, which became known as the NC-4.

Post World War I

Peace brought a downturn in military contracts which saw the Curtiss company shrink significantly, and Glenn Curtiss returned to his love of racing to improve product development, only this time with racing aircraft instead of motorcycles. Worldwide demand for increasingly larger seaplanes continued to be a mainstay in the Curtiss company's survival during the pre-World War II era.

Curtiss seaplanes won the Schneider Cup two consecutive races, 1923 and 1925. The 1925 race was won by U.S. Navy Lieutenant David Rittenhouse flying a Curtiss C.R.3 to Template:Convert.

Piloted by US Army Lt. Cyrus Bettis, a Curtiss R3C won the Pulitzer Trophy Race on October 12, 1925, at a speed of Template:Convert.[13] Thirteen days later, Jimmy Doolittle won the Schnieder in the same aircraft fitted with floats. Doolittle finished first with a top speed of Template:Convert.

Patent dispute

See also: The Wright brothers patent war

The patent dispute with the Wright brothers continued for several years until it was resolved during World War I. Since the last Wright aircraft, the Wright Model L was a single prototype of a "scouting" aircraft, made in 1916, the U.S. government, desperately short of combat aircraft, pressured both firms to resolve the patent dispute. In 1917, the U.S. government subsequently proferred a large and profitable contract to Curtiss to build aircraft for the U.S. Army.[14] The Wright Aeronautical Corporation, a successor to the original Wright Company, ultimately merged with the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company on 5 July 1929, forming the Curtiss-Wright company, just before Glenn Curtiss' death.[15]


Curtiss died in 1930 in Buffalo, New York, from complications after appendix surgery, and was buried in Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Hammondsport, New York. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990, and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.[16]


  • 1878 Birth in Hammondsport, New York
  • 1898 Marriage
  • 1900 Manufactures Hercules bicycles
  • 1901 Motorcycle designer and racer
  • 1903 American motorcycle champion
  • 1903 Unofficial one-mile motorcycle land speed record Template:Convert on Hercules V8 at Yonkers, New York[17]
  • 1904 Thomas Scott Baldwin mounts Curtiss motorcycle engine on a hydrogen-filled dirigible
  • 1904 Set 10-mile world speed record
  • 1904 Invented handlebar throttle control
  • 1905 Created G.H. Curtiss Manufacturing Company, Inc.
  • 1905 Set world speed records for 1, 2, and 3 miles on motorcycle[citation needed]
  • 1906 Curtiss writes the Wright brothers offering them an aeronautical motor
  • 1907 Curtiss joins Alexander Graham Bell in experimenting in aircraft
  • 1907 Set world motorcycle land speed record of Template:Convert[18]
  • 1907 Set world motorcycle land speed record at Template:Convert in his V8 motorcycle in Ormond Beach, Florida[18]
  • 1908 First Army dirigible flight with Curtiss as flight engineer
  • 1908 One of several claimants for the first flight of an aircraft controlled by ailerons
  • 1908 Lead designer and pilot of "June Bug" on July 4
  • 1909 Sale of Curtiss' "Golden Flyer" to the New York Aeronautic Society for $5,000.00 USD, marks the first sale of any aircraft in the U.S., triggers Wright Brothers lawsuits.
  • 1909 Won first international air speed record with Template:Convert in Rheims, France
  • 1909 First U.S. licensed aircraft manufacturer.
  • 1909 Established first flying school in United States and exhibition company
  • 1910 Long distance flying record of Template:Convert from Albany, New York to New York City
  • 1910 First simulated bombing runs from an aircraft at Lake Keuka
  • 1910 First firearm use from aircraft, piloted by Curtiss
  • 1910 First radio communication with aircraft in flight in a Curtiss biplane
  • 1910 Trained Blanche Stuart Scott, the first American female pilot
  • 1910 First successful takeoff from a United States Navy ship (Eugene Burton Ely, using Curtiss Plane)
  • 1911 First landing on a ship (Eugene Burton Ely, using Curtiss Plane) (2 Months later)
  • 1911 Pilot license #1 issued for his "June Bug" flight
  • 1911 Ailerons patented
  • 1911 Developed first successful pontoon aircraft in U.S.
  • 1911 Hydroplane A-1 Triad purchased by U.S. Navy (US Navy's First aircraft)
  • 1911 First dual pilot control
  • 1911 Developed first retractable landing gear on his Hydroaeroplane
  • 1911 His first aircraft sold to U.S. Army on April 27
  • 1912 Developed and flew the first flying boat on Lake Keuka
  • 1914 Start production run of "Jennys" and may other models including flying boats
  • 1917 Opens "Experimental Airplane Factory" in Garden City, Long Island
  • 1919 Curtiss NC-4 flying boat crosses the Atlantic
  • 1919 Commenced private aircraft production with the Oriole
  • 1921 Developed Hialeah, Florida including Hialeah Park Race Track
  • 1921 Donated his World War I training field to the Navy
  • 1923 Developed Miami Springs, Florida
  • 1923 (circa) Created first airboats
  • 1925 Builds his Miami Springs mansion.
  • 1926 Developed Opa-locka, Florida
  • 1928 Created the Curtiss Aerocar Company in Opa-locka, Florida.[19]
  • 1928 Curtiss towed an Aerocar from Miami to New York in 39 hours
  • 1930 Death in Buffalo, New York
  • 1930 Buried in Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Hammondsport, New York
  • 1964 Inducted in the National Aviation Hall of Fame
  • 1990 Inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in the air racing category

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roseberry 1972, p. 10.
  2. Harvey 2005, p. 254.
  3. Roseberry 1972, p. 57.
  4. Hatch 2007, p. 36.
  5. Roseberry 1972, p. 41.
  6. Roseberry 1972, p. 71.
  7. "Glenn H. Curtiss.", 2003. Retrieved: July 20, 2009.
  8. Casey 1981, p. 38.
  9. Casey 1981, pp. 65–67.
  10. Dizer 1982, p. 35.
  11. Karenko, J. P. "Tom Swift and his Motorcycle.", August 1, 2006. Retrieved: September 8, 2009.
  12. The Curtiss Company US Centennial of Flight Commemoration
  13. Curtiss R3C-1
  14. "Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co.: Wright Airplanes." Retrieved: July 20, 2009.
  15. "The Curtiss Company." at Retrieved: March 7, 2009.
  16. Template:Mhof
  17. House 2003, pp. 31–32.
  18. 18.0 18.1 de Cet 2003, p. 116.
  19. House 2003, p. 213.
  • "At Dayton". Time (magazine), October 13, 1924.
  • Casey, Louis S. Curtiss: The Hammondsport Era, 1907-1915. New York: Crown Publishers, 1981. ISBN 978-0517545652.
  • de Cet, Mirco. The Illustrated Directory of Motorcycles. St. Paul: MN: MotorBooks/MBI Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-0760314173.
  • Dizer, John T. Tom Swift & Company. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-024-2.
  • Harvey, Steve. It Started with a Steamboat: An American Saga. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2005. ISBN 978-1420849431.
  • Hatch, Alden. Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Aviation. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1599211459.
  • House, Kirk W. Hell-Rider to King of the Air. Warrendale, PA: SAE International, 2003. ISBN 0-7680-0802-6.
  • Roseberry, C.R. Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Flight. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1972. ISBN 0-81560-264-2.
  • Shulman, Seth. Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. ISBN 0-06-019633-5.
  • "Speed Limit." Time (magazine), October 29, 1923.

External links


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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Glenn Curtiss".