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No. 10 OCTOBER 2002

HARRY N. ATWOOD, "KING OF THE AIR"

Sanduskians broke into cheers when Harry Atwood and his flying boat “Aermaide” emerged from the fog that shrouded Lake Erie’s waters. For six, long hours the young flyer had been lost. Nearly every major newspaper had “kept the wires hot” inquiring about Atwood’s whereabouts. Whether intended or not, the “King of the Air” had set another record - the longest flight over water.

Harry N. Atwood stepping off his hydroplane along Lake Erie's shoreline near Sandusky, Ohio, 1913.

Harry N. Atwood testing his hydroplane along the Lake
Erie shoreline near Sandusky, Ohio, 1913.

A student of the Wright brothers, Atwood had stunned New Yorkers two years earlier with his daredevil flight among Manhattan’s skyscrapers. He thrilled the entire country when he landed his Burgess-Wright biplane on the South Lawn of the White House. His 1911 record-setting distance flights from Boston to Washington and from St. Louis to New York brought Atwood international fame.

Atwood soon followed other pioneer aviators to Sandusky, Ohio. The Roberts Motor Company, principally a manufacturer of marine engines, had provided engines for many of the country’s experimental aircraft. Its waterfront location at East Battery Park was ideal for testing both engines and aircraft.

According to the Sandusky Register, Atwood claimed, "The day of aeroplane stunts is done." He planned to establish a flight school, an aviation factory, and an island passenger service. Residents were certain that Atwood "would make Sandusky famous the world over" as a center of aviation industry.

Long on ideas and short on cash, Atwood persuaded Sanduskians to finance a hangar and dock space. When his flying boat (the only aircraft under construction) was seized to pay debts, Sanduskians covered those costs as well. But the flight school and passenger service failed to develop. Atwood explained that if the city would provide land and a building, Sanduskians “would get in on the ground floor” of the new aviation industry.

But by the fall of 1913, Atwood was gone. Enthralled with the possibilities of the new technology, Toledo investors outbid Sanduskians, offering land and buildings large enough for a factory and aviation school.

The photographs of Atwood and his aero hydroplane along the shores of Lake Erie are part of a series of images taken by Sandusky, Ohio, photographer Ernst Niebergall in 1913. Niebergall's prints are part of the Charles E. Frohman Collection housed at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.