Glenn Curtiss in Indianapolis!

The article in attachment IMSaero101309 first appeared in the Indianapolis Star on October 13, 1909. The article reports on the much-anticipated arrival of superstar aviator Glenn Curtiss who won a tremendous following after his victory in the James Gordon Bennett Cup at the Rheims, France international air show of August 1909.
The Star had reported for two days that Curtiss was due in town by train from St. Louis where he had provided an exhibition of his flying prowess to interested observers. Curtiss was in town to discuss the viability of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a home for his airplane construction business located in his home town of Hammondsport, New York. He was accompanied by one of his customers, industrialist Arthur P. Warner, founder of the Warner Instrument Company.
The visit came in the wake of the demise of the Speedway's planned aviation show for fall 1909. Despite some finger pointing by Speedway Contest Director Ernie Moross at Curtiss for making unreasonable demands as one of the contributing reasons for canceling the event the champion pilot and track management discussed how to do business with each other.
The Speedway harbored big ambitions to position their facility as not just an auto race track but a multi-purpose venue suitable for aviation shows and even the Olympics. As reported over the previous two days expectations were that Curtiss and others would locate their aviation businesses at the Speedway where an open, level field and two aerodromes for storage and workshops could be provided.
While the aviation show had been canceled the Speedway was still saying it intended to host a big auto race meet in November. Track management wanted to present to fans a taste of aviation at that event. The article reports that Moross planned to travel to Hammondsport to strike a contract with Curtiss for him to perform as part of the November auto race program. As with the air show, this auto race event never happened. There were time trials staged in December however.
Curtiss, a genius engineer, was a master of several disciplines. In 1907 he set the world speed record of over 137 MPH on a motorcycle of his design on the sands of Ormond Beach, Florida. The article indicates that Curtiss planned to bring his famous motorcycle to the Speedway. Curtiss also was reportedly interested in carburetors and an experimental 12-cylinder engine from the Wheeler-Schebler Company where Speedway Co-Founder Frank Wheeler was president.
Curtiss was hosted at the Speedway by President Carl Fisher, Vice President Arthur C. Newby, and Moross. He had lunch at the Columbia Club. The article reports that Curtiss felt the Speedway provided plenty of airspace above it to accommodate the number of planes that were at Rheims. Curtiss' advice to the Speedway team for developing pilots was to acquire gliders and use the southern hills of the state to practice flying skills. He is quoted on the topic:
"Latham (Hubert), the man who flies the highest, is an expert glider. He can go half a mile high and can then 'slide' back to earth by shutting off his motor. That takes practice and every time I do it I run a big risk. That is why I want you, here in this city, to start right in the game and learn how to glide.. Get some of those crafts and mount a nearby hill, then jump off into space and glide to the ground. This will accustom you to the sensations of being cut loose from the earth, will teach you to think as cooly and quickly in midair as on the ground and will give you necessary experience."
Much of this article provides insight to Curtiss as a person. It not only discusses his credentials but also his personality. A text box at the beginning of the article provides a nice biographical sketch of Curtiss up to that time - when he was 31 years old. It discusses his first job as a newsboy, his upbringing with a Methodist minister father and his success with motorcycles and airplanes.
The last few paragraphs of the article profile Curtiss with lots of quotes and insights to his work ethic and character. The article reports that he refused a cigar because he did not smoke or drink. He insisted he had no special talent and the implication is that his success was born of dedication. He shared his thoughts as a boy about becoming more productive as a newsboy.
"Weary legs always were a problem to me. Not that I think I am lazy, but then it seemed to me as a lad back in Hammondsport, carrying newspapers, that I was losing time when I had to be so slow as to walk. So I saved up my pennies, and the happiest morning of my life was when I fell off my own bicycle. Not because I fell but because I had one to fall off of. I never did accomplish anything without many efforts, and in the same way, I finally learned how to ride a bicycle."
The article reports that three airplanes were under construction in Indianapolis at the time. Carl Fisher and George Bumbaugh accounted for two of the planes and the other owner was anonymous. Joseph "J.W." Curzon is also mentioned as due to arrive in town with his Farman airplane. Keep in mind that it was during this time that the Speedway's huge brick-paving project was underway.
The Indianapolis News also covered Curtiss' visit to the Hoosier capital city and that October 12, 1909, article can be found in attachment IMSCurtissNews101209. The article covers much of the same ground as the one described above. It corroborates that Warner was traveling with him, that he had a lunch with Speedway Management and other local executives at the Columbia Club, his visit to see George Schebler's new 12-cylinder engine and that he was assessing IMS as a potential venue for his flight training school.
Colorful details and quotes contained here help bring the man back to life. Curtiss is reported as down-to-earth. His dress is described as typical of the average "everyday" American. Check out this excerpt below.
"He wore, over a plain black suit, a long cravenette coat. This international hero did not even wear a boiled shirt; it was just of the negligee type that the rest of us average Americans wear. And not even patent leather shoes. One would never pick him out in a big crowd as the man who soared into international fame and who shared with Cook and Peary and the Wrights - and the shades of Fulton and Hudson - the honors of his own country in the big New York celebration."
The writer points to Curtiss' opinion of the greatest "aeroplaning" feat up to that time as evidence of his humility as he compliments his rivals, the Wright Brothers. In his words:
"...I would say that the greatest performance in man-flying up to date consisted of the over-country flights by the Wrights at Ft. Myer. The Bleriot flight across the channel, of course, was of great historical significance, and the high flight of Orville Wright at Potsdam was spectacular, but, after all, the Ft. Myer flights were the greatest real accomplishments up to date."
Curtiss' predictions of the future are instructive to the thinking of the times. It's also fun to consider how accurate such visionaries were as they peered decades ahead over the time horizon. When asked if someday people would go to sales agencies and purchase airplanes, here's what Curtiss had to say.
"Yes, but I cannot say how soon it will come. We have all begun to commercialize our machines. I have a standard price and am building machines for sale in our factory at Hammondsport, N.Y. My machine is being placed on the market at $7,500. The Wright German and French machines are being sold from $2,000 up to $5,000. It seems that $5,000 is to become the first standard price for a serviceable machine."
Curtiss also sounded philosophical in discussing the ability to predict the future.
"I must confess that I do not believe any man who is flying and is a student of the new art can predict what is coming to pass. We are all doing our best, and we are making progress, but I doubt if aeroplaning will ever realize the dreams of the men who do not fly. As for carrying fast mails and passengers by airship, I don't see it near at hand."
He also discussed the realities of flying those early, fragile aircraft.
"Whenever I fly, I want a good place underneath me to land. Why, when I came back from Europe to make flights in New York, the papers had led the people to believe we were going to sail over the skyscrapers of New York. Something is likely to happen to an aeroplane at any moment, and on always wants a good place to light. Why, I'd almost as soon jump out of my aeroplane as to try to fly over even the business section of Indianapolis. I fear that we are not keeping up with the dreams of the people, and I am not prepared to make any prediction as to the future. Frankly, I don't know."
In another colorful moment, we learn that much of Curtiss' conversation with the reporter took place outside Carl Fisher's garage. In an insight to the challenges of flying in these early days, Curtiss remarked on the windy conditions of that very day.
"The day may come when man will go out and fly on a day like this. But it is not yet. Do you notice that there are no birds out flying today? Man never can hope, after all, quite to equal the bird. If the day does come when he can venture out on a day such as this, it will be like the bird that only flies out to get something to eat or to meet some other imperative demand."
The article discusses Curtiss' European travels and the internationally-known thought leaders of the day. One example is the Italian poet and politician, Gabriele D'Annunzio
When asked if Curtiss realized what history he, Bleriot, the Wrights, Farman and other aviators were creating, he laughed, but in a manner that came off as humble.
"Well, I am just beginning to awaken to it, but I must admit that I did not realize it until I came home and was given a greeting in New York and the biggest banquet they ever had up at Hammondsport. But the thing that really opened my eyes was the crowd of 300,000 people that turned out in St. Louis to see the flights. It was too bad that the flights were not more spectacular. The French people, of course, are enthusiastic over aeroplaning, and that was expected, but I was wholly unprepared to realize the interest that is taken in this country and especially out in the states of this magnificent valley."
Curtiss' observations about the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield when he visited the track helped to paint a picture of the conditions back in 1909.
"...if you just take out that tree, and that one, and that one (the article inserts that Curtiss was pointing to trees in the center of the infield and south of a small grove at the north end), you'll have a fine place for aviation exhibitions by experts and a suitable place for students to practice. You will have to take out those telephone and telegraph poles."
The article reports that Carl Fisher immediately ordered the removal of the trees and poles. Fisher still harbored a vision of Curtiss returning to the track before the end of the year to fly above the grounds while auto racing stars of the day circulated the freshly brick-paved oval. No date had been settled on due to the uncertain completion of the paving.
Attachment IMSCurtissHQNews contains another Indianapolis News article that preceded the first two analyzed here. It was published October 11. It is a very brief article that starts with a deceptive heading indicating that Curtiss would move his factory from Hammondsport to Indianapolis. That never happened and I don't believe was ever under consideration. I do believe Curtiss evaluated the grounds for suitability and then, for whatever reason, came to the conclusion that it did not make sense.

IMSaero101309.pdf1.58 MB
IMSCurtissNews101209.pdf3.56 MB
IMSCurtissHQNews101109.pdf250.45 KB