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DOMINGUEZ HILL 1910—AMERICA’S FIRST AIR MEET

AIRLINE PASSENGERS using LAX, Los Angeles’s major airport, may not realize it, but they’re near historic ground in pioneer aviation. The first air meet in the U.S. took place January 10 – 20, 1910, on Rancho Dominguez property, perhaps eight miles east of LAX, near the present I-110.

The 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet was a great success, with more than 40 entries from the U.S. and Europe, prizes totaling $70,000 (figure $1.7 million in today’s dollar) and an estimated 254,000 spectators. There were records broken daily, a lawsuit that threatened the most successful entrant big time, as well as inaugural flights (and a near miss) for famous personages.

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Poster for the meet, artist unknown. Image from Looping the Loop: Posters of Flight, by Henry Serrano Villard and Willis M. Allen Jr.

Pioneers of aviation were well represented, including Frenchmen Louis Paulhan and Didier Masson, Americans Glenn Curtiss, Lincoln Beachey and Charles Willard (one of Curtiss’s first students). Five of the 43 craft were Curtiss biplanes, four were Blériot monoplanes. Two Farman IIIs took part, including Paulhan’s; (he brought a total of four aeroplanes). Other entries, though not necessarily ever leaving the ground, included a triplane, gyroplane and (wing-flapping) ornithropter.

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Famous airmen at Dominguez Hill: From left to right, Hillery Beachey, Col. Johnson, Glenn Curtiss, Louis Paulhan, Charles Willard, Didier Masson, Lincoln Beachey, Roy Knabenshue and Charles Hamilton.

Evident in their absence from the entry list were the Wright Brothers, in the midst of patent lawsuits against Curtiss, Paulhan and Masson at the time. In fact, these three were served with papers as they traveled west to Los Angeles. A temporary waiver was granted just days before the event, thus allowing them to compete.

After the meet, the Wrights filed another suit demanding Paulhan’s winnings ($19,000, perhaps $450,000 in today’s dollars) plus threefold damages. Matters dragged on for years; indeed, some were never resolved.

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Crowds in this contemporary newspaper image are impressive; Louis Paulhan’s Farman III is evidently a pre-Photoshop addition. Image from Dominguez Air Meet 1910, by D.D. Hatfield, Northrup University, 1976.

A spectator took a 35¢ train ride (35 miles round-trip) from downtown Los Angeles to the Dominguez Hill site; another 50¢ got a person into the grounds and a grandstand seat. Plenty of attractions were offered, including a sideshow with, sadly enough, Cora and Elta, conjoined twins who were billed “the Human Biplane.”

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Louis Paulhan and his Farman III biplane take off.

Each day, records were set with prize money distributed accordingly. Curtiss set a world speed record, 54.7 mph. Paulhan and his Farman III rose to a record altitude of 4165 ft. He also earned the San Diego Medal, plus $10,000, for a flight of 1 hour 2 minutes, the longest duration aloft to date.

Paulhan also gave the crowd an unexpected thrill on January 14, 1910, by taking off from Dominguez Hill and heading south to the Pacific, the first aviator to fly above this ocean. His round-trip to San Pedro and back circled the Point Fermin site of a just-announced fortification to protect Los Angeles Harbor from sea attack. The Los Angeles Examiner recognized military implications of air power in a January 15, 1910, headline: “Paulhan Might Have Demolished Forts With Ease.”

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Memorabilia, some from 1910, others from the 2010 Commemoration.

It was clear that the 1910 Los Angeles Air Meet provided entertainment to one and all. Louis Paulhan’s wife and their black poodle accompanied him. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst got his first ride in an aeroplane from Paulhan. So did actress Florence Stone, wife of organizer and balloon enthusiast Richard Ferris. In doing so, Stone became the first woman on the West Coast to fly.

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Actress Florence Stone (organizer Richard Ferris’s wife) and Louis Paulhan evidently enjoyed their flight.

There was missed history as well. A timber merchant named William Boeing, already enamored of flight, came close to getting his first trip aloft. What with one thing and another, matters never quite connected. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

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