Dickerman’s Flying Machine – 1897

Dickerman’s Flying Machine – 1897

     The following story appeared in The Abbeville Press And Banner, a defunct newspaper from Abbeville, South Carolina, (1869 – 1924).  It reportedly happened to a farmer named Dickerman from Woodbridge, Connecticut.  The farmer’s first name was not stated, and validity of this tale is left to the discretion of the reader.  

     Besides being a farmer, Mr. Dickerman was also an inventor of air ships.  “A few years ago,” the article read in part, “his attempt to navigate a machine he had built to fly resulted in injuries to the inventor that laid him up for six weeks with a broken limb.” 

     Yet apparently Mr. Dickerman was undaunted by his mishap and decided to try again. 

     In May of 1897, Dickerman allegedly bought a “wagon body and an electric battery storage system”.  The batteries were to power an electric motor, which would power an air compressor, that was supposed to shoot a powerful steady stream of compressed air into a canvas umbrella rigged above the wagon.  The flow of compressed air would supposedly keep the entire contraption suspended in mid-air – at least as long as the batteries held out.  The compressed air would also drive two side wheels made of discarded windmill blades which would serve to propel the flying machine forward.  

     The article explained; “Dickerman bought up all the windmill arms he could find and attached them to the outside of the wagon body, which he had propped up on the top of his barn.  Cog wheels connected to the shaft of each with a rod that was to be turned by means of the electric motor.”

     It was stated that Mr. Dickerman planned to fly his invention all the way to Cuba which he estimated would take less than a day, but he’d provisioned his wagon with enough food stores to last a week.  Among his provisions were a can-opener and a feather pillow.

     The reason for Mr. Dickerman’s Cuba destination was to assist that country in its war for independence – a war which had begun in 1895.  (This conflict later became the Spanish-American War for the United States with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in 1898.)     

     To get his invention ready for its inaugural flight Mr. Dickerman, with the help of a hired-hand identified only as “Mike”, and “half a dozen of Dickerman’s cronies”, somehow got the flying machine  atop the roof of his barn.  Then Mr. Dickerman climbed in and sat in a rocking chair he’d installed so that he’d be comfortable during his voyage, and then started the motor.  After giving the signal, “Mike” and the “cronies” gave the craft a mighty shove and Dickerman’s air ship sailed off the edge of the roof with predictable results. 

      The article ended with, “Dickerman is at present under the doctor’s care.  His faith in his invention still lives, and he says he will yet fly.” 

     Authors note: No accounts of this alleged incident appeared in Woodbridge area newspapers. 


     The Abbeville Press And Banner, (Abeville, South Carolina), “Modern Darius Green” – “A Foolish Connecticut Farmer And His Flying Machine” April 21, 1897 

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Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     The following brief article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, on March 7, 1911.  The man in the story, Daniel Mackney, lived on Colonial Ave. in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Boy Of 19 Has Novel Plan For Flying Machine 

     “Daniel Mackney, 19, who lives on Colonial Avenue, believes he has solved the problem of aerial navigation, and he will seek an opportunity to present his sketches and possibly a small model of his aeroplane to the Aero Club of Connecticut at its next meeting.

     Mr. Mackney’s plan calls for a machine with four planes driven by a propeller of 12 angles.  The lifting power is to come from air forced by the engine until it impacts against the planes from the underside.  The sketch also shows a novel form of brake, useful for holding the plane in position before it is ready to start, thus dispensing with the services of the four or five men now used to hold some machines back until things are ready for the flight.” 


The Mystery Of Candlewood Mountain – 1897

The Mystery Of Candlewood Mountain – 1897

     Candlewood Mountain is located in the town of New Milford, Connecticut, and is 971 feet tall.  

     The following newspaper article appeared in the Kansas City Journal, (Kansas City, Mo.), on November 19, 1897, Page 6.  It speaks of a three-year-old mystery associated with Candlewood Mountain, but doesn’t elaborate as to what the mystery was.  Presumably, the mystery had something to do with a bird-like flying machine allegedly shot at by a hunter.  Is this story based in fact, or fantasy?  The reader can decide.


Connecticut Hunter Runs Across Unexpected Game – Mystery Of Bewitched Mountain Explained 

    “The Mystery of Candlewood Mountain, which has puzzled the residents of New Milford, Conn. for more than three years has been solved.

     Some said the mountain was bewitched.  During these three years Fredrick T. Buck, of New Milford, has periodically disappeared.  Somehow people began to associate him with the mystery of Candlewood Mountain.  Sometimes Buck would appear in surrounding towns with a companion who talked and looked like a foreigner.  They would come into town with a team and make purchase of provisions, also wire, rope, canvas, chains, cog wheels, bars of steel, whalebone, electric supplies, gas stoves, and umbrellas.

     Two weeks ago Walter A. Logan of New Milford, who hunts with a telescope rifle instead of a shotgun, broke his telescope.  He sent it to a Bridgeport optician to be repaired.  By some misunderstanding, the optician affixed a lens five times stronger than the original one.

     Yesterday Logan was part way up Candlewood Mountain after partridge and quail.  Through his telescope he picked out some game, but when he fired he missed.  He kept on up the mountain and turned his telescope in all directions.  Suddenly he saw a monster flapping its wings.

     “Now,” said Logan, “I guess I can hit that.  It’s big enough.”

     So he pulled the trigger and expected to see the aerial monster show signs of pain.  Instead, it kept on flapping its wings.  He kept up a running fire for some time.   At last he saw through his telescope that the animated monster was held down by chains.

     Logan climbed on up and came upon a hut and shed nearby, in which were a grindstone and various mechanical tools.  Not far from the shed were several trees sawed off, and to the stumps were attached chains.  These fastenings led up to the flapping affair, which proved to be a flying machine.  Buck was standing on the ground, and in the machine was the foreigner.

     Buck was dismayed by Logan’s appearance.  He offered him all sorts of inducements to keep quiet.  Logan, however, could not keep the secret, and as soon as he got back to New Milford told his wife.  In less than an hour half of New Milford heard the news.”     

     One would think that such a tale would have been carried in numerous newspapers at the time, but this does not appear to be the case.  Furthermore, it could be surmised that if the story was published in a Kansas newspaper, it certainly would have been carried in local newspapers in the New Milford, Connecticut, area.  The New Milford Public Library has a newspaper microfilm collection which includes newspapers from 1897, yet no mention of this incident could be found.  The New Milford Historical Society doesn’t have anything about the incident in their archives either.  

     Considering the facts as presented in the newspaper article, certain questions arise.  For example, why was the “monster flapping its wings” being held earthbound by chains?  And why didn’t the “pilot” land immediately when the shooting started?  Furthermore, upon hearing about such a machine, it seems logical that half the citizens of New Milford would have made their way up the mountain to see this remarkable sight. 

    And finally, although there is no known connection, this story of Candlewood Mountain was published several weeks after a famous Connecticut inventor, Gustave Whitehead, gave a public exhibition of his flying machine in New Jersey.  Whitehead’s machine was called “The Condor”, and some-what resembled a bird.  Some newspapers even published illustrations of Whitehead’s invention.

     Newspaper reports of Whitehead’s exhibition include:

     New York Times, “New Airship Ready For Flight” – “Modeled After A Condor Called A Sure Thing”, October 6, 1897

     The World, “Will Try His Airship” -“Whitehead, An Old Maker Of Such Craft, Is The Inventor”, October 6, 1897

     New York Press, “Whitehead’s Flying Condor” – “Ambitious Designer Says He Will Imitate The Flight Of The Great Bird In The Air”, October 6, 1897

     New York Herald, “Whitehead’s Airship”, October 6, 1897

     Quincy Morning Whig, “Hopes To Fly Like A Condor”, October 7, 1897

     Other sources:  www.Gustave-Whitehead.com

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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

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