Dakota Datebook

First Airplane in North Dakota

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

“Don’t miss the Aeroplane!” boasted an advertisement in the Grand Forks Daily Herald today in 1910. “The most thrilling and sensational marvel of the age. Daring flights daily; diving from dizzy heights to depths below; mounting majestically to the clouds; death defying but delightful. First and only opportunity to see this greatest of all thrillers in the Northwest.”

The ad promised this year’s Grand Forks Fair goers an amazing show. For the first time in history, an airplane would take flight in North Dakota. Arch Hoxsey of Pasadena, California would pilot this plane, or “Wright machine.” Moreover, this specific plane held the altitude records at the time. Walter Brooks had just recently flown the plane to an altitude of 6,200 feet.

The air show was highly publicized throughout the week of the fair, and as people anticipated the show, the newspapers promised fair goers a thrill. This year, they said, everyone would have a chance to witness this “Man-bird” perform circles and swoops like a hawk or swallow. “There may even be a chance,” added the reporter, “for the ladies to express their feelings in little gasps of fright or shrieks of excitement lest the man-bird be dashed to the earth and hurt or killed.”

Hoxsey’s first performance was before a crowd of 10,000. This crowd was not let down by the sixteen minute flight. The paper raved the next morning about the performance: Hoxsey “swings and circles in such rapid succession that detailed description would be difficult. Back and forth across the race grounds went the aeroplane, now swinging around in a figure eight, now rising high in the air and swooping earthwards like a hawk in pursuit of his prey…swaying, swinging, swooping, sending thrills through every fiber of the spectator’s being but always graceful, interesting and pleasing to the eye.”

Hoxsey performed again on July 20th for a larger crowd. In this flight, Hoxsey flew to 2,500 feet before a crowd of 17,000. The height was matched only by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Those who only planned to visit for the day stayed another to watch Hoxsey fly. Trains and cars were packed with others coming to Grand Forks. Excitement grew for the performance when Hoxsey promised to take a local man in the air with him during the next day’s performance.

Many applications were submitted to be the guest passenger, but the lucky man chosen was Frank Kent, the Grand Forks’ postmaster. Hoxsey gave one afternoon performance and scheduled the flight with Kent for later that evening. This evening flight became another first for Grand Forks and the country. This flight was to be the first ever under a searchlight. Shrieks and gasps were heard again from the crowd, though not from Kent. “You will notice that he did not let his cigar go out during the trip,” said Hoxsey. The seventy-year-old Kent proclaimed afterwards that he was ready to buy his own airplane.

The 22nd was the last day of Grand Forks’ fair. Crowds gathered again to watch Hoxsey fly his airplane. Instead of the customary stunts, however, Hoxsey was to race a fifty horsepower automobile. The car got off to a fast start, but through the race, Hoxsey was able to catch up. The wind, however, blew harder. On the final stretch, Hoxsey was forced to pull up to avoid wires that stretched across the field. As he did so, the increasing wind slowed him down, allowing the car to pass, and Hoxsey finished the race just fifty feet behind the car. The audience believed, however, that the plane would have won if it weren’t for the unfortunate circumstances. Nonetheless, everyone agreed after the first few flights in North Dakota history that “Aviation is something that would not soon cease to interest.”

by Tessa Sandstrom

Sources:
“Arch Hoxsey the aviator is on deck,” Grand Forks Daily Herald. July 19, 1910:1.
“Hoxsey showed great skill,” Grand Forks Daily Herald. July 20, 1910: 1.
“Daring aviator made big hit,” Grand Forks Daily Herald. July 21, 1910: 1.
Grand Forks Daily Herald. July 22, 1910.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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