Joe Seymour – First Aeroplane Flight In New England?

Joe Seymour – First Aeroplane Flight In New England?

By Jim Ignasher


     On June 24, 1910, The Providence Journal reported, “Joe Seymour, in a private test at Narragansett Park last evening, accomplished the first successful aeroplane flight ever made in New England.” Narragansett Park, a.k.a. Narragansett Trotting Park, was a race track that once existed between present-day Park Avenue, that Gansett Avenue, and Spectacle Pond, in Cranston, Rhode Island. Seymour accomplished his feat in a Curtis bi-plane.

     There is some debate as to this actually being the first airplane flight in New England.  There seems to be mounting evidence that Gustave Whitehead flew an airplane in Connecticut in 1901, two years before the Wright Brothers.  And a recently discovered (Woonsocket) Evening Call article dated April 23, 1910, described the flight, and subsequent crash, of Greely S. Curtis at Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  While Seymour’s flight may not have been the first in New England, it might have been the first for Rhode Island. 

     Mr. Seymour had arrived at the park earlier in the day in preparation for an exhibition he was to give. However, mechanical difficulties prevented him from flying until it was nearly dark.  Not wanting to disappoint the two-hundred or so spectators who had gathered, he decided to make a test flight once around the park, but never climbing above an altitude of 200 feet. 

     According to the Providence Journal, “He maintained this altitude for about 200 feet and then descended easily, bringing the craft to a stop at almost the exact spot from which it had been started.”

     Seymour may also have been the first to wreck an airplane in Rhode Island. The following morning it was reported, “Joseph Seymour, the aviator, was severely hurt, and his Curtis aeroplane badly wrecked at Narragansett Park late yesterday afternoon, when the machine going 30 miles an hour, crashed into a post hidden in the grass, while Seymour was attempting to alight.”    

     After wrecking, Seymour contacted the Herring Aeroplane Factory in Massachusetts, and ordered two replacement propellers.  Oddly enough, they just happened to have two in stock that would fit his aircraft.  This was good news, for otherwise they would have had to be custom made – out of wood – which would take considerable time. 

     Such early flights were still considered newsworthy for 1910.  On the day Seymour crashed his plane, it was reported that a man named William Hilliard had flown a Burgess bi-plane for a distance of three miles while maintaining an altitude of just seventy-five feet in Newburyport, Massachusetts. 

    From Rhode Island, Mr. Seymour went to Garden City, Long Island, where he took part in another air exhibition in July.  Unfortunately, bad luck followed him there and he crashed again while making an in-flight turn.  The following September, Seymour’s plane was nearly hit in mid-air by another aircraft while flying at yet another exhibition.

Update February 14, 2017

     An article that appeared in the New York Tribune on March 2, 1910 stated that A. M. Herring and W. Starling Burgess, of the Herring-Burgess company, made a successful flight at Marblehead, Massachusetts, the day before.    


Providence Journal, “Aviator Soars In Air In Night Flight Here”, June 24, 1910, Pg. 1

Providence Journal, “Seymour, In Biplane Crashes Into Post.”, June 25, 1910, Pg. 1

Providence Journal, “Rushes Aeroplane Repairs”, June 26, 1910, Pg. 2

New York Times, “Aeroplane Hits Post”, June 25, 1910

New York Times, “Three-Mile Flight In Five Minutes”, June 25, 1910

New York Times, “Seymour Machine Wrecked”, July 28, 1910

(Woonsocket) Evening Call, “Airship Damaged”, April 23, 1910, Pg.1

New York Tribune, “New Style Flier – Herring And Burgess Have A Successful Trial At Marblehead”, March 2, 1910

Early Aviation At Newburyport, Massachusetts

Early Aviation Newspaper Articles

Of Newburyport, Massachusetts

early biplane

     The following newspaper articles, culled from various sources, offer a small glimpse of early aviation trials held in Newburyport, Massachusetts.


Successful Aero Flights

New Yorkers Make Several “Runs” with “Flying Fish”

     Newburyport, Mass. – April 17. – Over the marshes of Plum Island, the Herring-Burgess aeroplane, “Flying Fish”, made three successful flights today.  Arthur M. herring of Hammondsport, N. Y., piloted the machine in the first flight.  After alighting easily at the river’s edge after a 250 yards’ run, the craft was turned over to W. Sterling Burgess, who made two short flights.    

     The Salt Lake Herald-Republican, April 18, 1910.


Breaks World’s Record

Great Feat Of Burgess Aeroplane In Its Initial Flight

     Newburyport, Mass., April 18. – Three successive aeroplane flights by A. M. Herring of New York and W. S. Burgess at Plum Island aviation field Sunday created a record for heavier than air machines when the big machine started on each one of its three flights by its own power in skids while resting on the ground.

     The successful flight is the culmination of three years steady planning by the two inventors who made the flights, which marked the opening of the aeroplane era in New England.

     Orleans County Monitor, April 20, 1910


Flights By Auto Racer

New Device Works Well On Herring Burgess Aeroplane

     Newburyport, Mass., May 13 – William Hilliard, and automobile racer of Boston, made three successful flights in a new Herring-Burgess aeroplane at Plum Island aviation grounds to-day.  The machine he used had a new device of his own invention which supplanted the “fins” on the top, and is used to maintain the equilibrium of the machine.

     Several hundred yards were covered in each of the three flights, at a height of between fifteen and twenty feet, and during one ascension Hilliard was able to negotiate a complete turn, the first he has been able to make. 

     New York Tribune, May 14, 1910, page 3


Flight At Plum Island

     Newburyport, Mass., May 24 – The longest aeroplane flight in New England has been made by William Hilliard, of Boston, who went a distance of a third of a mile at Plum Island.  The machine worked smoothly and no mishap happened.

     The Washington Times, May 24, 1910, Page 13, Last Edition  


Biplane In Several Flights

     New Device to Give Lateral Stability Works Well at Plum Island

     Newburyport, Mass., May 27 – Several aeroplane flights lasting an hour and a half and covering distances from a quarter to half a mile at an altitude of fifteen feet were made to-day by William Hilliard in a Herring-Burgess biplane at Plum Island aviation grounds.  There was a brisk breeze blowing at the time, and it was thought at first the flights would have to be postponed until the air was calmer.  Hilliard, it is said, jestingly made a vow last night that he would not eat again until he had made a flight, and he evidently was hungry this morning, for he launched the machine despite the breeze and flew across the meadows.

     The biplane has lately been equipped with a new device to give lateral stability.  This device is intended especially for use in windy weather, and to-day it had its first real test.  the inventor and Mr. Hilliard say that it worked remarkably well.

     New York Tribune, May 28, 1910, Page 5.  


Insurance Companies Will Not Accept Risk Of Aviators As Ordinary

     Newburyport, June 8.  Evidence that insurance companies are not to accept the risk of aviators as ordinary has been revealed here in the case of A. L. Pfitzner of Hammondsport, N.Y., who has been making flights at Plum Island.  Pfitzner was visited by an agent of the insurance company Justas he was preparing for a trial of some new skids on a biplane today.  The company had heard of the narrow escape of Pfitzner a few days ago when he crashed to the ground from a height of 30 feet.  He was obliged to sign a clause absolving the insurance company from liability in case of death while engaged in flying machine flights.

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, June 8, 1910, Page 5.   


Aviator Pfitzner Makes Flight From Plum Island To Pork Island

     Newburyport, Mass., July 8 – A. L. Pfitzner, of Hammondsport, N. Y., made a very successful flight here today in a Burgess biplane, covering a distance of two miles at a height of 100 feet.  Pfitzner started from the Plum Island aviation field and landed at Pork Island.  The aviator said he could have gone farther but had to descend owing to his engne being overheated.  This is the most successful flight at plum Island so far.

     Mr. Pfitzner will make another flight this evening in the same machine while William Hilliard of Boston will also make a trip in his aeroplane.

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, July 8, 1910, Page 4.   


Aviator Falls Into River And Swims Ashore

     Newburyport, Mass., July 9 – Following a spectacular three mile flight across Plum Island meadows early today, A. L. Pfitzner, the New York aviator while flying at a height of 75 feet was hurled into Plum Island’s river when the machine which he was operating was capsized by a cross current of air.  Mr. Pfitzner swam ashore and went to the aviation shed and an examination disclosed a badly bruised head and it is feared that he is injured internally.  He plucklly stayed on the grounds until the remnants of the machine had been hauled from the river, after which he was driven to his quarters at the Plum Island Hotel, two miles distant. But little was left of his machine except the engine.  he was using a Curtiss biplane at the time of the accident.

     The Bridgeport Evening farmer, July 9, 1910, page 2.   

     Note:  This report of the accident states the aircraft was a “Curtis biplane”.  The following report states it was a “Burgess biplane”  


Fell 75 Feet

     Newburyport, Mass., July 9 – Following a spectacular three mile flight across Plum Island meadow today, A. L. Pfitsnor (Name misspelled – should be “Pfitzner”) of New York, flying at a height of seventy-five feet in a Burgess biplane, was hurled into Plum Island river.  The machine capsized in air currents.  It is feared he is internally injured.

     The Fairmont West Virginian, July 9, 1910, Page 6.   



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