1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Field
The Los Angeles International Air Meet was held Jan. 10-20, 1910, and is among the earliest air shows in the world, and the first major air show in the United States.
It was held in Los Angeles County, Calif., at Dominguez Field, southwest of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe in present-day Rancho Dominguez. Spectator turnout numbered approximately 254,000 over 11 days of ticket sales. The Los Angeles Times called it “one of the greatest public events in the history of the West.”
While it is well documented that Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew on Dec. 17, 1903, the early 1900s saw several competing claims to have made the first practical airplane. The Wrights filed for a patent on their flying machine on March 23, 1903, and Patent Number 821393 is dated May 22, 1906. They moved their flying north east of Dayton, Ohio, to a 100-acre field called Huffman Prairie and continued to develop their aircraft design. The year 1908 saw the Wrights’ first publicized demonstration flights.
On Aug. 8, 1908, at the Hunaudières track near Le Mans, France, the Wrights silenced European doubters. In a first demonstration lasting only one minute 45 seconds, Wilbur Wright’s effortless banking turns and ability to fly in a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several French aviation pioneers, among them Louis Blériot.
Several air shows featuring competitions, aircraft makers, and pilots were held in 1909, including ones at Frankfurt in Germany and Reims, France. The Frankfurt air show, which began in July 1909 (now named Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung (ILA)) claims to be the world’s first such multi-participant show. The Grande Semaine d’Aviation in Reims took place during August 1909, and attracted more than half a million spectators. Shortly after the Reims air show, Charles Willard and A. Roy Knabenshue resolved to stage the first such show in the United States, targeting the winter of 1909-1910 for its occurrence.
Knabenshue and Willard selected the Los Angeles, Calif., area for its favorable winter weather. After receiving a promise of participation from Glenn Curtiss, Knabenshue contacted Los Angeles promoter Dick Ferris, who in turn mobilized local businesses and formed an organizing committee.
A field near Santa Anita Park was considered, but physical obstructions such as tall trees led the aviators to search elsewhere. By December 1909, they selected Dominguez Field atop a small hill that had been developed by Manuel Dominguez on land once part of Rancho San Pedro, an early Spanish land grant.
Once the site was finalized, promotion of the meet began and grandstands with a capacity of between 50,000 and 60,000 were erected. An aviators’ camp was also constructed nearby. The passenger platform at the local Pacific Electric Railway station was expanded to accommodate visitors to the rural site who might travel from downtown Los Angeles.
Organizers invited pilots of monoplanes, biplanes, balloons, and dirigibles. To reinforce the event’s “international” billing, French aviator Louis Paulhan, a notable from the 1909 Reims meet, was invited. Paulhan was guaranteed a small sum of money as encouragement to attend. Cash prizes were allotted for competitive events in altitude, speed, and endurance.
The 1910 Air Meet drew many famous aviators, most of whom were American. Glenn Curtiss, American aviation pioneer and founder of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company was the most famous. Other participants included Roy Knabenshue, Charles Willard, Lincoln Beachey and Charles K. Hamilton, Howard Warfield Gill, and Clifford B. Harmon, many of whom are listed among the Early Birds of Aviation. French aviators at the event included Louis Paulhan and Didier Masson.
The Wright brothers did not take part in the event, but were there with their lawyers in an attempt to prevent Paulhan and Curtiss from flying. The Wrights claimed that the ailerons on their aircraft infringed patents. Notwithstanding their allegations, Paulhan and Curtis still made flights.
Paulhan gave William Randolph Hearst his first experience of flight. However, William Boeing, who had been enthused by the new invention of the airplane, was unable to get a ride on any aircraft at the air meet:
While attending the first American Air Meet in Los Angeles, Boeing asked nearly every aviator for a ride, but no one said yes except Louis Paulhan. For three days Boeing waited, but on the fourth day he discovered Paulhan had already left the meet. Possibly, one of the biggest missed opportunities in Paulhan’s life was the ride he never gave Boeing.
As part of the larger Wright brothers’ patent cases, the Wrights actually won monetary damages in U.S. courts for Paulhan’s public performances that day.
In addition to the aviators billed in the event’s programs, there were many hobbyists and inventors wishing to make a name for themselves in the new aviation industry.
A $1,500 prize for a locally designed and built machine that successfully flew helped to ensure a high turn-out from California inventors and would-be aviators. Some of these were close copies or modifications on already successful designs, like the Bleriot monoplane or Curtiss biplane, but some were truly original creations in every sense of the word.
One of the more unusual was Los Angeles resident James Slough Zerbe’s so-called “Multi-plane,” a construction which boasted five separate “planes” of wings attached to an elaborate chassis. Unfortunately for Zerbe, his creation hit a hole in the field and collapsed during take-off, ruining several of the wings and making flight impossible.
Zerbe was also responsible for the creation of a “double biplane” for W.J. Davis. This machine consisted of “four decks of equal size, arranged two fore and two aft” and two propellers.
A.E. Mueller, another Los Angeles resident, created an aircraft which was so large for the time that it was dubbed “Mueller’s Monster” by the LA Times, who stated that it was “by far the largest aeroplane in existence”. The plane measured 75-feet long by 50-feet wide, had a 600-pound, 50-horsepower engine, and weighed around a ton. Mueller believed that by creating such a heavy machine he would be able to avoid “the necessity of delicate balancing in light wind currents.”
J.H. Klassen, also of Los Angeles, constructed a gyroplane for the contest, as well as entering a monoplane. His design, described by the LA Times as “quite novel”, consisted of “two 12-foot circular planes in the front, and two 8-foot planes in the rear.” Klassen hoped that the “gyroscopic motion of the revolving planes” would aid greatly in the craft’s stability in the air.
An estimated 254,000 tickets were sold, and gate receipts were roughly $137,500. During the time the meet was running, streetcars ran to Dominguez Fields every two minutes from the Pacific Electric station in Los Angeles. The great crowd turn-out, averaging more than 20,000 spectators per day, made it possible to return $1.25 to “the subscribers to the aviation fund for every dollar advanced.” Probably not the only future-notable person to see the show, nine-year-old Florence Leontine Lowe, later better known as “Pancho” Barnes, was brought by her grandfather, aviation pioneer Thaddeus S. C. Lowe. It was here that she was inspired to begin her own later career in aviation. By the end of the event, the backer announced a profit of $60,000 after disbursing prize money.
Aviators competed for the $75,000 in prizes according to a standard procedure. The aviators would first “notify the judges for which prize they [were] about to compete” and then fly around the 1.61-mile course, always in an anti-clockwise direction. Aviators were informed that they “must not fly over the grand stand or any place where a crowd is assembled without permission of the judges.” Violators of this rule were penalised.
All flights taking place between 2 p.m. and sunset counted towards scoring for prizes. Aviators were encouraged to fly as many times per day as possible, and to make as many record attempts in the competitive events as possible. In fact, those contestants who “do not make a flight every day between the hours of two and five o’clock p. m. of one complete circuit of the course in competition for the speed or endurance competitions will be penalized five per cent of their best time for the prize.” Only the best time was counted during the judging at the end of the meet.
Ballooning competitions and events were also held in the Los Angeles suburb of Huntington Park throughout the week. These events included attempts to reach a new altitude record and passenger flights.