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!

Fourth of July Celebrations in Florida

Join a parade in Deland in 1884. Then head to Daytona Beach in 1896. After an eating contest in 1905, try your luck at a greased pole climbing contest in 1989!

Fourth of July parade on Boulevard Street: DeLand, Florida (1884)

 

Fourth of July celebration on the beach: Daytona Beach, Florida (1896)

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What’s Your Hurry?

Why race off? Slow down and smell the salt water!

Ranson E. Olds in the Olds Pirate: Ormond Beach (ca. 1896)

Ranson E. Olds in the Olds Pirate: Ormond Beach (ca. 1896)

Louis Ross in a Stanley Steamer automobile: Daytona Beach (1903)

Louis Ross in a Stanley Steamer automobile: Daytona Beach (1903)

Arthur McDonald in his Napier racer: Daytona Beach (1905)

Arthur McDonald in his Napier racer: Daytona Beach (1905)

Barney Oldfield racing the Blitzen Benz: Daytona Beach (1910)

Barney Oldfield racing the Blitzen Benz: Daytona Beach (1910)

Sir Henry Segrave in the Golden Arrow: Daytona Beach (1929)

Sir Henry Segrave in the Golden Arrow: Daytona Beach (1929)

Tommy Milton: Daytona Beach (1920)

Tommy Milton: Daytona Beach (1920)

Harry Hartz: Miami Beach (1926)

Harry Hartz: Miami Beach (1926)

Ralph DePalma in his Packard V-12: Daytona Beach (1919)

Ralph DePalma in his Packard V-12: Daytona Beach (1919)

Buddy Callaway: Daytona Beach (1936)

Buddy Callaway: Daytona Beach (1936)

Jack Etheridge in Bill Milam's Special 1: Daytona Beach (1947)

Jack Etheridge in Bill Milam’s Special 1: Daytona Beach (1947)

Sig Haugdahl in the Wisconsin Special: Daytona Beach (1922)

Sig Haugdahl in the Wisconsin Special: Daytona Beach (1922)

Sir Malcolm Campbell in his Bluebird: Daytona Beach (1935)

Sir Malcolm Campbell in his Bluebird: Daytona Beach (1935)

Before the 500: Daytona Beach Racing

Before the big race moved inland to an asphalt track and became an American classic, drivers fulfilled their need for speed on the beaches of Central Florida.

The crowd assembles... (January 1952)

The crowd assembles… (January 1952)

Gentlemen, start your engines! (ca. 1910)

Gentlemen, start your engines! (ca. 1910)

Everybody gets pole position (January 14, 1905)

Everybody gets pole position (January 14, 1905)

And they're off! (February 1952)

And they’re off! (February 1952)

Into the turn... (February 1952)

Into the turn… (February 1952)

Watch out for wrecks! (February 1952)

Watch out for wrecks! (February 1952)

And the winner is... Edward Knowles Rayson! (1947)

And the winner is… Edward Knowles Rayson! (1947)

BONUS PHOTO!

Richard Petty and friends (February 1971)

Richard Petty and friends (February 1971)

What’s your favorite Daytona 500 photo? Share it with us in the comments.

Jackie Robinson, Daytona Beach and Desegregation

City Island Ball Park, Daytona Beach, circa 1940

City Island Ball Park, Daytona Beach, circa 1940

Today is the birthday of Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972).

City Island Ball Park, renamed Jackie Robinson Ball Park in 1990, was built circa 1915. Daytona Beach was the first city in Florida that allowed Robinson to play during spring training in 1946 when he was a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League.

Both Sanford and Jacksonville, citing segregation laws, refused to let Montreal play an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, parent club of Robinson’s Royals. Daytona Beach agreed to the game, which was played on March 17, 1946.

As a result of the resistance by Jacksonville, the Dodgers moved spring training to City Island Ball Park, and in 1948 built Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Jackie Robinson Ball Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.