Let’s Have An Air Party

Of all the kinds of parties you can have – toga parties, foam parties, hurricane parties – an air party might seem the silliest. But that’s exactly the sort of celebration many of Florida’s major communities were throwing in the 1930s, when commercial aviation and air tourism were still in their infancy.

Program from Orlando's Second Annual "Air Party," January 1935 - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Program from Orlando’s Second Annual “Air Party,” January 1935 – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Officials in both the private and public sectors had recognized by this time that aviation offered Florida a marvelous opportunity. Distance, as one observer put it, just didn’t mean as much anymore when a trip that had once taken days could now be accomplished in a few hours. To encourage Florida’s growth as a destination for air tourism, state and local governments teamed up with private businesses to host air races, air parties, and other events. These efforts had two objectives: to sell Florida as a tourist destination by air to the rest of the country, and to convince Floridians of the worthiness of investing in better aviation infrastructure.

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Air cruises, usually sponsored by chambers of commerce, aeronautical clubs, and other civic groups, were some of the most unique events. These were typically open to any “sportsman pilots” or private aviators who wanted to attend. The pilots would fly their planes from airport to airport along a chain of host cities, enjoying receptions, races, and other activities along the way. Here’s an example itinerary from the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise:

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

The towns along the route would often extend privileges to the visiting pilots at their local country clubs, hotels, and restaurants. In some cities – Orlando we know for sure – the pilots received fuel and oil at wholesale prices as an incentive. The local chambers of commerce often arranged ground transportation as well, and local groups provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, and other favorite Florida pastimes.

Pilot Harold Neumann with

Pilot Harold Neumann with “Miss Chevrolet” in Miami (1936).

These groups were typically quite intimate, but their activities were highly visible and helped introduce a large number of people to the possibilities of aviation. A little more time, plus some help from World War II, saw Florida criss-crossed with busy commercial air routes and a whole new sector to its thriving tourist industry.

Interested in aviation or a related Florida industry? The State Library & Archives has a wide variety of books, ephemera, photographs, and manuscript collections touching on these subjects. The program and itinerary from this blog post, for example, came from a collection of papers belonging to William C. Lazarus, who once directed the Aviation Division of the State Road Department and helped organize a number of “air parties.” Search our catalogs to find out what we have on your favorite topic in Florida history!

Daytona Beach and the Earliest Days of Aviation in Florida

Daytona Beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming, but there’s no telling how many visitors have spent a day there without realizing they were enjoying themselves on one of Florida’s very first runways. Auto racing was already a popular sport at Daytona by the time the Wright brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. The hard sand surface of the upper beach was a perfect natural track for the light, speedy cars being developed by racing enthusiasts. Airplanes were an easy addition to the mix of experimental machines, since the motors in the earliest planes incorporated much of the same technology as automobiles. The result was an age when Daytona Beach served not only as one of the nation’s first racetracks, but also a natural airport.

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

As enthusiasm for aviation spread quickly in the 1900s, more and more pilots and their experimental flying machines began appearing on the sand at Daytona. In 1906, New York aviator Israel Ludlow arrived at the auto races in Daytona and Ormond beaches to execute a test flight with a glider contraption he had designed. Charles K. Hamilton, who would go on to become the twelfth person to earn an American pilot’s license, flew the device. Hamilton gripped a tow rope tied to an automobile that pulled his aircraft along the beach by driving quickly across the sand. Once Hamilton left the ground, he released the tow rope and glided, shifting his body weight left and right to steer. The glider flew for about 150 feet before one of the wing ribs broke, sending it crashing to the ground. The glider was seriously damaged, but Hamilton survived.

Preparing for Florida's first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida's Atlantic coast (1906).

Preparing for Florida’s first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida’s Atlantic coast (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Daytona became a popular testing site for all kinds of aviation innovations. In 1910, Edward Andrews of Chicago flew the first twin-engine plane ever built from Daytona Beach. It flew for about 100 feet at an altitude of only 6 feet before breaking apart. Interestingly, Andrews later decided to temporarily buck the flight mechanization trend and develop a gliding apparatus worn on the arms. In 1911, he attached wings of wood and cloth to his arms and shoulders and had a car pull him along the beach until he took flight. The voyage was successful, but afterward Andrews had this to say:

“I have found this to be dangerous. A machine, which if free would be perfectly safe, is made as erratic as a child’s kite by the attachment of a rope. I, for one, shall seek other means of getting into the air.”

 

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago - Daytona Beach (1910).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago – Daytona Beach (1910).

The daring and edgy spirit of Daytona attracted a large number of aviation exhibitionists. John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed pilot, pioneer aviatrix Ruth Law, and future million-mile commercial pilot Ervie Ballough were all among the throng of eager aviators who flew up and down the sandy coast in the 1910s and 1920s.

Over time, the number of planes and people visiting Daytona Beach necessitated regulations to ensure public safety. At first, Daytona’s city government determined the best method was to restrict landings and take-offs to the beach and keep them away from town. Once airstrips appeared at Bethune Point and farther inland in the 1920s, the beach was no longer deemed the safest place for these activities. In the 1930s, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of the beach as an airstrip.

John McCurdy, Canada's first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Daytona was one of the most popular spots for early aviation experiments in Florida, but there were certainly others. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images depicting early aviation in the Sunshine State!

Miami Municipal Airport and Amelia Earhart

On the morning of June 1, 1937, Amelia Earhart took off from Miami Municipal Airport, beginning her second attempt to fly around the world.

That day’s flight was uneventful. She landed in Puerto Rico in the afternoon, but would not complete her circumnavigation. Earhart was remembered in the naming of the field from which her flight began. Miami Municipal Airport was rededicated as Amelia Earhart Field in 1947, and now Amelia Earhart Park is located near the site in northwestern Miami-Dade County.

Groundbreaking at Miami Municipal Airport, November 4, 1929

Groundbreaking at Miami Municipal Airport, November 4, 1929

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