Dr. De Bossuet’s Airship – 1889

Dr. Bossuet’s Airship – 1889

     The following article appeared in The Ohio Democrat, (of Logan, Ohio), November 23, 1889.  It relates to a “Dr. De Bossuet” of Boston who planned to build a steel airship, and was trying to raise $250,000 to build it.  This was a remarkable sum of money for 1889.  No further details about this project or Dr. De Bossuet are known.


A Boston Machine Will Solve The Problem, It Is Claimed

     News comes from Boston that, under the auspices of the Aerial Exhibition Association , a steel air-ship is about to be constructed upon the vacuum principle.  The ship is to be constructed entirely of thin plates of the greatest possible tensile  strength, and thoroughly braced inside by a “new development in science mechanics” to resists the pressure of the atmosphere when a partial vacuum is obtained.  The promoters of the enterprise expect their machine to lift two hundred passengers and fifty tons of mail or other matter, to say nothing of all the machinery and apparatus with electrical power sufficient to give a speed to the ship of at least seventy miles an hour.  During the earlier trips no intermediate or steerage passengers will be taken. The cost is estimated at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and a National subscription is to be opened for the purpose of securing the necessary funds.  Dr. De Bossuet, the inventor, is said to claim that his plans have the approval of “the most eminent scientific and engineering experts in the country.”  There is no doubt that aerial navigation will sooner or later become an accomplished fact, but it is very much open to question whether either the automobile balloon or the vacuum shell will be the successful airship of the future, but rather, so far as we can judge at present, a self-sustaining machine, or a motor driven by electricity, derived from the surface of the earth.  It seems as if inventors never would be convinced of the futility of the dirigible balloon, of which the unfortunate termination of the Campbell venture has just afforded another example.  They are misled by the ease with which the machine can be handled in a dead calm, and will not realize that in a breeze it becomes comparatively powerless – N.Y. Mail and Express   

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

Professor Charles F. Ritchel’s Flying Machine – 1878

     Charles Francis Ritchel was born in Portland, Maine, on December 22, 1844, and died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on January 21, 1911.  (At times his last name has been misspelled in the press as “Ritchell”, (two “ls”), and as “Richel”.)

     Professor Ritchel was a talented inventor with many patients to his credit.  Around 1870 he became interested in developing a flying machine that could travel the sky in any direction despite wind currents.  In Ritchel’s day, the only way to “fly” was in a balloon, but balloons were at the mercy of prevailing winds, updrafts, and down drafts, and in places like New England the possibility of being blown out to sea was certainly a concern.

     In November of 1876 Ritchel moved from Corry, Pennsylvania, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to begin development of his flying machine. 

    By March of 1878 his first airship was nearing completion.  (It is said he eventually built five.) The final work was being done in the large hallway of the Riverside Hotel in East Bridgeport, and the project had reportedly caught the attention of famous circus owner and showman, P.T. Barnum. 

     Ritchel’s flying machine was of a dirigible type, with propellers that controlled upward and downward motion, and allowed for steering in the air.  The machine had no motors, and motion of the propellers was achieved by the pilot operating a series of cranks and levers utilizing his own muscle power.  The gas cylinder or envelope was described as being made of black silk, 24 feet long, and 12 feet in diameter, holding 3,000 square feet of gas.     

     By the spring of 1878 he’d completed construction, and on May 8th, gave a successful indoor exhibition of his new invention in one of the Centennial Exposition buildings in Philadelphia.    

      On May 25, 1878, a Maryland newspaper, The Democratic Advocate, had this to say: “After Edison’s speaking phonograph, what then?  Why Professor Ritchel’s wonderful flying machine, in Philadelphia, which sails gracefully through the Exhibition building, up, down, or whichever way you will, applauded by a large crowd of visitors.  A little while and the air ship will glide gracefully through the atmosphere at the rate of sixty miles an hour. We may then strike a bee line over mountains, rivers and oceans, for any desirable point, leaving such lumbering things as railroads and steamers, with the “slow coach” of the period before steam and railroads put them out of use.”       

     After Philadelphia, Ritchel exhibited his flying machine at a hall in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Among those invited to attend were members of the Franklin Institute, and others of the scientific community.   

     The following newspaper account relating to the Bridgeport exhibition is from The Charlotte Democrat, dated June 14, 1878.

   New Flying Machine 

      “Unlike many aerial machines, this one is not shaped like a bird, nor has it any wings.  It consists of a large bag of cylindrical form inflated with hydrogen, and a car provided with attachment designed to control the elevation and descent of the bag and to direct its course.  The bag is 24 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, and requires 3,000 feet of gas for its inflation. The rising and steering apparatus underneath has a framework made of brass tubing, and is provided with a seat for the passenger.  Directly in front of the seat is a crank which he turns to produce the power that puts in motion two small fans that can be operated singly or together.  The elevating fan has five blades, set spirally, and can be made to rotate at the rate of 3,000 revolutions per minute.  This fan furnishes, or is intended to furnish, the lifting power which constitutes the novelty and value of the invention, and by reversing the motion depresses the air ship on the same principle as it raises it.  At the end of the framework of the car, some 10 or 12 feet distant from the passenger, is another similar fan, which works at an angle with the air ship, and is designed to turn it any direction desired.  It may be stated that both fans work in the air on the same principle that the Fowler steering and propelling apparatus works in the water.  The exhibition was given in a large hall, a boy operating the cranks.  The boy commenced to turn the crank, the fan whizzed fiercely, and the bag rose three or four feet from the floor.  It refused to go any higher, however, but after ascending slightly sank back toward the floor at each trial.  Then the steering fan was set in motion, with about the same degree of success. The attendants ascribing the partial failure of the experiments to the boy who engineered the machine, another boy was substituted. He succeeded considerably better than the first, elevating the bag to the ceiling several times, and had turned it about half way around with the steering fan when two of the blades broke.  The experiment led to the opinion that, with some changes in the fan, the machine might be made to perform as intended.  As is well known, one great difficulty in balloon navigation is that the aeronaut is dependent for his elevation on the buoyancy of the balloon alone; another is that its course is dependent on the direction of the wind.  Mr. Ritchell thinks that his apparatus can be made to overcome both these difficulties. – Iron Age.”       

     It’s likely that the Bridgeport exhibition described above occurred early in the month of June, or even late May, given the publication date of  June 14, 1878 in a southern newspaper.   

     Apparently any problems with the propellers were corrected, for on June 29, 1878, the Scientific American reported that Ritchel’s invention had made a successful open-air trail flight in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12th.  The Scientific American reported in part: “The first open air exhibition of Professor C. F. Ritchel’s flying machine was conducted at Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday afternoon, June 12.” (1878)    

     A large crowd had watched as the air ship ascended from a ball field near the Colt Armory and attain an altitude of 250 feet before sailing off over the Connecticut River.  It was reported that the pilot demonstrated that he could control the height and direction of the aircraft at will.   

     One account of the historic flight was recounted in the Marshall County Republican, on July 18, 1878.  

     The article stated in part:

     “When he ascended there was but little wind blowing, and the machine appeared under perfect control, but gradually a breeze sprang up, and it was deemed safest to make a speedy return, as there were indications in the sky of a gathering storm.  The machine turned and made its way back in the teeth of the wind until it was directly over the ball ground it had ascended from and there alighted only a few feet from the place of its departure.”

     As a point of fact, Professor Ritchel’s flying machine made two flights at Hartford – the second on the following day, June 13th.  

     The Marshall County Republican article continued:

     “On the second trial, some time was spent in getting the weight and lifting power so neatly balanced as to show that the machine had a lifting power of its own.  When this had been effected to Prof. Ritchel’s satisfaction, the apparatus rested quietly upon the grass, but could be lifted or set back with a light pressure of a finger.  When the word was given to “Go!” the operator, Quinlan, weighing 96 pounds, began turning the wheel, the horizontal fan revolved with a noise like a buzz saw, and the machine darted up almost vertically to a height of about two hundred feet.  There a strong, steady wind setting toward the southwest was encountered, and the machine was swept broadside on to the spectators. Then the operator was seen throwing his vertical fan into gear, and by it said the aerial ship turned around, pointing its head in whatever direction he chose to have it.  All this was the work of a few seconds.  Although Quinlan could move the apparatus about, he could not make any headway against the strong wind. “

     (“The operator, Quinlan”, referred to in the above passage was Mark Quinlan, who reportedly weighed less than 100 pounds.)  

     The wind pushed the machine towards the town of New Haven and observers lost sight of it after it went over a hill.  After struggling in the wind for about an hour, Quinlan landed in Newington, Connecticut, and waited until the winds died down before taking off again and returning to Hartford at 10 p.m. 

     From Hartford, the professor brought his machine to Boston where on July 4, 1878, he flew it for one hour and twenty minutes in a wind that was blowing 18 to 20 miles per hour.  A few days later on July 13th, an illustration of Ritchel in his flying machine appeared on the cover of Harpers Weekly magazine. 

    In September of 1878 Ritchell again brought his invention to Boston, and this time exhibited it inside the Tremont Temple.  A reporter wrote the following as he described the scene: “A strong light in front of a large reflector in the gallery made the hall lighter that I had ever seen it, and threw upon the wall the shadow of the machine, making a most uncanny picture.” 

      The flying machine was described in the newspapers as being “a frame of brass tubes and nickel plated pipes and rods, shaped something like a boat, and is hung to a tube which is supported beneath a huge cylindrical bag, twenty-five feet long, and some ten or twelve (feet) in diameter.”  It also contained a series of gears, shifts, and clutches, which made it “as pretty as a watch.” 

     “The machine is certainly a success,” the article stated, “but if it were not it would still be worth looking at and admiring for its beauty, and for the singular ingenuity displayed in planning and building it.”

     The gas bag was said to be made of rubber coated “zephyr cloth” capable of holding 2,200 square feet of hydrogen gas.  This contradicted earlier reports that the dirigible held 3,000 square feet of gas, but this may have been a different, or improved gas bag. 

     The machine could navigate the air by two sets of multi-blade fans, one positioned under the pilot’s seat to raise or lower the craft, and the second at the front of the aircraft to propel it forward or backwards or steer in one direction or another. 

     The fans were reportedly made of white Holly, each blade having about 50 square inches of surface, and capable of making 2,000 to 2,800 revolutions per minute.  The fans were powered by the operator manually turning hand-cranks and steering with his feet, without the aid of any mechanical engine. 

     As to speed performance, the article stated, “The best speed yet attained is ten miles in thirty minutes with the wind, but in a calm, seven miles an hour is as much as can be doe comfortable. Direct progress cannot be made against a wind more than seven miles an hour, but by tacking he had made four miles in less than two hours.” 

     The total weight of the machine, not counting the operator, was said to be 115 pounds.         

     The following year Professor Ritchell apparently constructed another flying machine as evidenced by the following newspaper article that appeared in the Helena Weekly Herald, on July 24, 1879. (Originally published in the New Haven Paladium)

     A New Flying Machine

     “Professor C. F. Ritchell of Bridgeport is constructing a flying machine which he is to use at Coney Island.  The India-rubber gas cylinder is being made at the Naugatuck glove shop.  This is slightly elliptical in shape, is forty-five feet three inches length, and about forty-three feet in circumference.  The cylinder is to be inflated with hydrogen gas and will have a sustaining capacity adequate to support the machinery necessary to operate the car, and two med additional , lacking about one pound weight.  The whole structure is thus almost upon a poise.  Still it will not rise except by operating the paddles or “rings” necessary for that purpose.  Its propelling agencies are so nicely constructed that the car may be raised or lowered, moved forward or backward, propelled in a circle, at the will of the operator. It is a very ingenious affair throughout and throws other machines of the sort into the background.”

     What is significant about Professor Ritchel’s invention is that it worked, and his flying machine demonstration in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 12, 1878, was said to be the first successful dirigible flight ever achieved in the state.  However, within a few years Professor Ritchel’s accomplishment was apparently forgotten, for a small news item that appeared in The Sun, (a New York newspaper) in 1909 stated the following: “Capt. Thomas S. Baldwin, an aeronaut, furnished Norwich with a new sensation this afternoon when he flew five miles in his dirigible balloon.  It was the first dirigible that ever flew over the state of Connecticut.” 

     Professor Charles F. Ritchel is buried in Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Plot 46A, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  


     Scientific American, June 29, 1878, page 405      

     Helena Weekly Herald, (Helena, Mont.) “A New Flying Machine”, July 24, 1879

     The Anderson Intelligencer, (South Carolina), “Navigation In The Air”, March 28, 1878

     The Democratic Advocate, (Westminster, Md.), (No headline) May 25, 1878.  

     The Charlotte Democrat, (Charlotte, N.C.) “New Flying Machine”, June 14, 1878

     The Canton Advocate, ( Canton S.D.) “A Flying Machine”, June 18, 1878

     Marshall County Republican, (Plymouth, Ind.) “A Successful Flying Machine”, July 18, 1878

     The Home Journal, (Winchester, Tenn.) general items, August 1, 1878

     The Vancouver Independent, (Vancouver, Washington) “The New Flying Machine”, September 12, 1878

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Taft On Freedom’s Growth” (His visit to Norwich), July 6, 1909, page 2

     Book- “High Frontier: A History Of Aeronautics In Pennsylvania”, by William F. Trimble, University Of Pittsburgh Press, Copyright 1982  

     Wikipedia – Prof. Charles F. Ritchel

     www.findagrave.com, Memorial # 147446540

Rufus Porter’s “Aeroport” Airship – 1853

Rufus Porter’s “Aeroport” Airship – 1853

Click on images to enlarge.

Rufus Porter's "Power Balloon" From a September 20, 1908 newspaper illustration of The Evening Star, of Washington, D.C.

Rufus Porter’s “Power Balloon”
From a September 20, 1908 newspaper illustration of The Evening Star, of Washington, D.C.

     Rufus Porter was a 19th century New England inventor, publisher, and artist, who some might say was a man well ahead of his time when it came to aeronautical thinking.   

     Born May 1, 1792, in West Boxford, Massachusetts, Porter received little in the way of formal education, but he possessed a brilliant and creative mind.    

     As an artist he painted mural scenes on the walls of many New England homes, and some of these murals survive today. 

     One of his publications included the New York Mechanic, which was described in the Vermont Telegraph in 1841 as being, “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and other Scientific Improvements.”  It was published weekly at 7 Ann St., New York City.  Others included the American Mechanic, and Scientific American, two magazines aimed at those interested in the latest technology of the day.     

     Mr. Porter was very interested in all things mechanical, and is credited with many inventions, but perhaps his most intriguing was his “Aeroport”, a steam-powered airship that he began to develop in the early 1830s.   The “Aeroport” has also been referred to by other names such as “Aerial Steamer”, “Aero-locomotive”, and “Power Balloon”, but the press commonly referred to it as an “Aeroport”.     

An Early Balloon

An Early Balloon

     The field of aviation was relatively new in Porter’s day.  The first manned balloon ascension had taken place in France in 1783, and the first balloon flight in America had followed ten years later in 1793, about eight months after Porter was born.  Forty years later balloon technology  hadn’t changed much, and once aloft, aeronauts were still at the mercy of the prevailing winds with no means to control the craft’s direction other than up or down.  Porter wanted to change that by designing a flying machine that could land and take off with ease, and be under the control of a pilot who could direct the ship in any desired direction despite wind currents. 

     Another drawback of balloons of the day was that they could only carry one or two persons, but Porter envisioned an air ship that could transport many people at once, much like a modern-day airliner.  His futuristic thinking was ridiculed by those who thought such aerial navigation impossible, yet others found it intriguing, for there had once been a time when sailing across the world’s oceans was thought to be impossible.         

     Porter’s proposed airship was to be 160 feet long, and designed to carry passengers in an enclosed compartment called the “saloon” slung beneath the gas-envelope.  It was to be powered by steam engines which would spin huge propellers that would push it through the air at speeds faster than any known ships or trains.  And for safety sake, the engines and boiler were to be installed in such a way that they could be immediately dropped away should an emergency arise.  

     Over the years Porter built several working models of his proposed airship, which he used to demonstrate the fesability of his project.  The first of these models was completed in 1833, when Porter was in his early 40s.

     In 1849 Rufus Porter authored a publication titled Aerial Navigation: The Practicability Of Traveling Plesantly And Safely From New York To California In Three Days, Fully Demonstrated.   In it, he explained how such a feat could be accomplished with his proposed air ship that he envisioned capable of carrying between fifty to one-hundred passengers at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, making a round trip from New York to California’s “Gold Region” in only seven days.  This was a remarkable claim in an era when the fastest ships took weeks to make the journey.

     In 1850 Porter went to New York and Boston to exhibit a working model of his invention. One newspaper reported, “Mr. Porter’s ‘flying machine did all that it promised on Wednesday evening.  It rose above the audience and went around the hall exactly as he said it would, and the spectators gave three cheers for the successful experiment.”  

     The model was then demonstrated at the Merchant’s Exchange in New York where it circled the rotunda eleven times.

       In 1851 Porter established the Aerial Navigation Company which offered investors the chance to purchase shares in his “Aeroport” which he was convinced would be extremely profitable once completed and put into operation.       

Rufus Porter's Dirigible Airship of 1850 Note the word "Aeroport" on the side of the ship. Illustration from The New York Sun November 23, 1913

Rufus Porter’s Dirigible Airship of 1850
Note the word “Aeroport” on the side of the ship.
Illustration from The New York Sun
November 23, 1913

     In March of 1852 he wrote an open letter to the public looking for investors which was published in the Daily American Telegraph in Washington, D.C., where he had established his residence.  Porter offered potential investors the chance to turn a five-dollar investment into a cash income $20 per week for twenty years.  That translates into a potential return of $20, 800 – a huge sum of money even today.

     The letter stated as follows:

     “The Flying Ship – A chance to secure a cash income of $10 to $20 per week for twenty years, by the investment of five dollars in advance.

     It is extensively known that the undersigned has by the theory and practical experiments so fully demonstrated the practicability of aerial navigation that all who have duly examined the subject are convinced; and no person, even of those whose interests are adverse to its success, can offer a word of rational argument against it.  Several model machines have been constructed, and each of them has operated successfully; and one of them , sixteen feet long, carried a small steam engine, by the power of which the machine was propelled, and, being guided by its own helm, traveled rapidly through the air, even against a breeze of wind, in direct lines or circles, according to the adjustment of its helm.  This machine was witnessed and applauded by hundreds in New York and Boston, and notices thereof were published in several newspapers of those cities at the time.  Since those experiments were made, the inventor has made additional improvements, whereby the invention is now perfected.  And it appears certain that a safe and durable aerial ship, (or aeroport,) capable of carrying one hundred and fifty passengers at a speed of ninety miles an hour, with more perfect safety than either steamboats or railroad cars, may be constructed for $15,000, and that the expense of running it will not exceed $25 per day.  This Aeroport will make the trip to California or to Europe in two days, and will be patronized with abundance of business (more that 50,000 persons are now ready to engage passages) at $200 per passage, which will amount to $30,000 per trip, each way; or $60,000 per week, besides $4,000 for carrying mails.  If this aeroport is owned in shares of $5 each, a single share will produce an income of $20 per week. 

     It is ascertained, by a minute and careful estimate, that an aeroport 150 feet long and capable of carrying five persons at a speed of sixty miles per hour, may be constructed for $1,500.  Now, having been disappointed of the funds requisite to put this invention in operation on a scale of practical utility, I propose that if three hundred persons will subscribe five dollars each, payable when the whole amount of $1,500 shall have been subscribed, I will forthwith construct this pioneer aeroport, (which may be done in six weeks;) and when this is put in operation, I can readily command the requisite funds for constructing a large aeroport, as above mentioned.  And I will so arrange that each subscriber, on the payment of the said sum of five dollars, shall be furnished with a regular title-deed, which shall entitle th eholder thereof to one three-hundredth part of this first aeroport, and also to one three-hundredth part of the first large aeroprt that shall be constructed, and of all benefits and emoluments that may be derived therefrom for twenty years; the said aeroport to be kept in repair without expense to the shareholders.  Subscribers will not be restricted to single shares, but each may hold as many as he is disposed to subscribe for at first; and will receive dividends accordingly, which, according to the forgoing estimate, will be $20 per week on each share, payable weekly or monthly.  Subscribers may send their names to my address by mail (prepaid) and the same will be duly entered on the subscription book, (which already contains about fifty names of subscribers in this city,) and notice will be sent (prepaid) to each when the three hundred shares shall have been taken; and the money may be sent either to me or to the firm of Selden, Withers & Co., (well known bankers of this city,) who will, on the receiptthereof, forward to each subscriber a title-deed, as above stipulated, and will act as treasurers for the shareholders, and transfer the money to me as the progress of the work requires.  Each subscriber will be furnished semi-monthly with a printed news-letter, reporting the progress of the work.

     Editors or publishers of newspapers who will give the forgoing prospectus an insertion within three weeks, and send a copy thereof to the undersigned, shall be entitled to one share in the large aeroport, and be furnished with a title-deed or five dollars in cash forthwith.”

     Rufus Porter, Washington, March 16, 1852

     “P.S. – It is confidently believed that by this invention unexplored regions may be examined, and the light of civilization and Christianity may be disseminated through benighted lands with faculty; and that the world will honor the names of those who now subscribe to aid the introduction of an invention calculated to confer immense benefits upon the entire human race.”       

     Not long afterwards Mr. Porter began building his “Aeroport” .  Unfortunately, throughout the entire construction process, Porter was plagued by bad luck, skeptcisim, ridicule, obstruction, and even vandalism.             

     On August 12, 1852, the Jeffersonian Republican of Stroudsburg, Penn. reported the following: “Rufus Porter, who is building a flying ship at Washington, in his semi monthly report to the stockholders, says: – “The fibrous material for the float and the saloon has all been varnished, and the sewing and making up the float are now in progress, and we may have it ready for inflation in two weeks.  The frame work of the saloon, and the longitudinal rods for the float, are ready to be set up.  The engine and boilers are only waiting for the furnace”

        By the beginning of 1853 Mr. Porter’s airship was still under construction.  On January 1st, of that year, another Washington, D.C. newspaper, the Weekly National Intelligencier, had this to say;

       “When Mr. Porter issued his prospectus or proposition to construct machinery for aerial navigation, and offered shares therein for cash in advance, it was supposed or suspected by most people – probably nine-tenths of those who read the prospectus – to be a mere trick to raise money, but without any serious intention to proceed in the construction of said machine or aeroport.  But the proposition having received the confidence of a sufficient number to obtain the sum required in said prospectus, Mr. Porter did proceed in good faith in the work of constructing the said aeroport, and notwithstanding that he encountered a series of adversities which much retarded the work, and nearly doubled the estimated expense thereof, he had brought the aeroport nearly to completion when interrupted by the inclemency of winter weather.  An unlucky oversight, which required a laborious portion of the work to be wrought over again, only prevented the completion of the aeroport in November.  He now believes that his aeroport may be put to full operation in two or three weeks of mild, calm, pleasant weather.  But, in consequence of delay and the expense of the safe-keeping of the machinery, (some part which being 160 feet long, is rather difficult of storage,) he finds it expiedient to sell a larger number of shares than he had heretofore intended to do; and in consideration of the forward state of the work, and having thus far discovered nothing to shake his confidence in the ultimate success thereof, he reasonably expects the public to entertain more confidence, and attach more value to the said shares than at or prior to the commencement.”

     The rest of the article went on to reiterate what Mr. Porter had said in his letter dated March 16, 1852.         

Advertisement From The Daily Evening Star March 25, 1853 Note the cost of admission was 50 cents

Advertisement From
The Daily Evening Star
March 25, 1853
Note the cost of admission was 50 cents

     To help raise more funding, Mr. Porter exhibited a 22-foot-long and 8-foot-wide working model of his “aeroport” airship at venues where people willing to pay a small admission price could see it.  The total weight of the model was said to be only 15 pounds.

     One place in particular where the model was exhibited on more than one occasion was Carusi’s Saloon in Washington, D.C.  

     On April 13, 1853, the Daily Evening Star reported, “The performance at Carusi’s saloon last evening was highly satisfactory, and elicited frequent applause from the excited audience.”    

     Evidently the demonstrations of his working model failed to achieve the desired effect to entice more investors, for the following month Mr. Porter penned another letter which appeared in the Daily Evening Star on May 12, 1853, which he titled:   “Outrageous Apathy And Inconsistency”.

     The letter read:    

From The Republic newspaper Washington, D. C. April 1, 1853 Note the price of admission was now 25 cents.

From The Republic newspaper Washington, D. C.
April 1, 1853
Note the price of admission was now 25 cents.



     “What a world of fools; or rather, what a nation of skeptics and moral cowards.  Look at the facts.  More than ten years ago I published , described, illustrated, and demonstrated the practicability of a convenient mode of traveling safely and rapidly through the air, in any required direction; and subsequently have not only refuted all arguments against it, but demonstrated its practicability by the frequently repeated exhibition of an operating aerial steamer (aeroport or flying ship) on a small scale, and proved beyond all cavil, that this mode of traveling would be incomparatively more safe, as well as more pleasant and expeditious, than nay mode in present use; and that the cost of an aeroport of such size and proportions as to be capable of carrying two hundred passengers safely, at a good speed of one hundred miles per hour, would be less than that of an ordinary steam ferry boat; and that the earnings of this aeroport would pay more than two hundred percent per week on its cost; and that no accident or emergency could possibly occur to subject the passengers to more danger than that of a hotel residence.  Yet with these facts before them, and while people are being burned, drowned, smashed and ground up by hundreds, by collisions, overturning and plunging railroad trains, and the burning of steamboats; and while thousands are exposing their lives by land journies across the thousand miles of desert and wilderness, or submitting to the hardship and dangers of a six months voyage around Cape Horn, such a total apathy, or mental disease of skepticism, and the fear of vulgar sneers pervades the community that not one man of wealth can be found in these United States, willing to furnish the requisite funds for introducing this incomparable and greatly needed improvement.

     When application has been made to Congress, the subject meets with ridicule; or, if referred to appropriate committees, the members refuse to examine its merits. 

     When the most interesting appeals have been made public through the press, and a liberal interest (worth $500,) in the invention , has been offered to every editor who would give the proposition an insertion, only one in fifty of those whom the offer was made , deigned to notice it; and of these, three subsequently demanded cash payment for the insertion.

     So goes the world, or rather, the nation; and so it will go, perhaps, till the more reasonable English or French capitalists shall have put this same aeroport in operation in Europe; when all Yankeedom will eagerly adopt the invention, and wonder that it had not been introduced before.”

     R. Porter       

     One can understand Mr. Porter’s frustration.  As a man of foresight, he knew that air travel was the way of the future, and history has proven him correct, but he didn’t understand why people were reluctant to invest in his project, or why the United States government had denied his request for funding when other nations like France and England were actively seeking was to develop air travel.  

     So why were people reluctant to invest?  One possibility could have been the promise of a potential return of $20,800 on a mere $5 investment.  If Mr. Porter’s figures are correct, and there’s no reason to doubt them, a person would be a fool not to invest, but perhaps potential investors couldn’t believe it, thinking it was too good to be true. 

     Another possibility is that while we take high-speed aerial navigation for granted in the 21st century, in 1853 it was akin to science fiction, so one can understand why some may have thought Mr. Porter’s invention would be nothing more than a passing fancy.  Such was the thinking with other inventions throughout the ages, like the telephone, for example.         

1845 Train Illustration

1845 Train Illustration

     And perhaps there were those who weren’t anxious to see airships replace trains and ocean going vessels as a primary means of long distance travel, especially when Mr. Porter was claiming his invention would be able to cross continents and oceans in mere days – something trains and ships were incapable of.    

       Yet Mr. Porter persevered, and in early July of 1853 he announced that he hoped his “Aeroport” would be ready for trials by October 1st. If successful, he planned to fly it to the World’s Fair in New York City.  At the time he made the announcement he was still reportedly $300 short of his financial goal.

      On July 26, 1853, a Washington, D.C. newspaper reported, “We have heretofore stated that Mr. Rufus Porter proposes to construct an aeroport with which to visit the Crystal Palace; he and others being confident that he can accomplish his purpose.  Notwithstanding the doubts which prevail upon the subject, and the opinions expressed as to the practicability, he is now engaged in the construction of his flying ship.  The City Councils, several weeks ago, as we were yesterday informed by a member of the lower board, refused to grant him the use of a vacant lot somewhere in the slashes, on which he could erect a pavilion to protect his mechanical operations; but this has not weakened his determination to persevere in his long-considered plans.  To say the least, the municipal authorities can take no offence should the proprietor withhold from them the complementary invitation of a saloon passage!” 

     And so it went.  A year-and-a-half later on January 5, 1855, the Washington Sentinel commented, “Mr. Rufus Porter, with the industry of a beaver, is still working on his “float and saloon”, in this city.”   Unfortunately the project never came to fruition.  In the ensuing years others followed in Porter’s foot steps.  Some made progress, others failed, but it was Rufus Porter who’d laid the groundwork for future dirigible development.   This fact was recognized in The Sun, a New York newspaper, in the autumn of 1913, twenty-nine years after Rufus Porter died.  The article said in part; “Perhaps you don’t know who Rufus Porter was, and if that be the case, you, as a patriotic American will be interested in learning that he has some right to be described as the father of the dirigible airship.”  

     Rufus Porter died at the age of 92 in West Haven, Connecticut, on August 13, 1884, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in West Haven.   

     To learn more about Rufus Porter, one should visit the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgton, Maine, or the museum’s website at:  http://rufusportermuseum.org/  


     Vermont Telegraph, “New York Mechanic” May 5, 1841.  

     Daily American Telegraph, (Washington, D. C. ) “The Flying Ship”, Rufus Porter’s appeal to investors through his letter to the editor., April 3, 1852 

     Jeffersonian Republican, (no headline) August 12, 1852 

     The Daily Comet, (Baton Rouge, La.) “The Flying Ship” October 8, 1852

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, D.C.) “The Flying Ship”, January 1, 1853

     Grand River Times, “(Grand Haven, Michigan), (no headline) February 23, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, “The Aeroport, Or Flying Ship” – Carusi’s Saloon advertisement, March 25, 1853

     The Republic, (Washington D. C. ) Carusi’s Saloon – The Flying Ship, or Aeroport”, April 1, 1853    

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, D.C.) ,”The Flying Ship”, April 2, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, “Communicated – The Flying Ship”, April 13, 1853

     Daily Evening Star, (Washington, D.C. ) “Outrageous Apathy and Inconsistency”, May 12, 1853 

     Daily Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.) (no headline – Porter announces Aeroport will be ready for test flights on October 1st.) July 11, 1853

     The Daily Republic, (Washington, D.C.) “Aerial Flights” July 12, 1853

     The Daily Republic, (Washington D.C.) “Aerial Traveling”, July 26, 1853

     Washington Sentinel, Rufus Porter’s letter to the editor, November 27, 1853

     Washington Sentinel, under “Local and Personal”, headline “The Flying Ship” October 28, 1854

     Washington Sentinel, (Washington, D.C.) “Floating Castles”, January 5, 1855 

     Tri-Weekly Asturian, “Miscellaneous Items”, September 16, 1873

     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.) “Nest of Flyers Here – Washington Home Of Greatest Attempts To navigate Air”, September 20, 1908

     New York Sun, (Image) “Rufus Porter’s Airship Of 1850”, November 23, 1913, 3rd Section, Page 12.

     New York Sun, “Yankee’s Dirigible Airship Of Sixty Years Ago”, November 23, 1913, 3rd Section, Page 12.

     Rufus Porter Museum, Bridgton, Maine.   

     Wikipedia – Rufus Porter

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