California Aviation History
Dominguez International Air Meet
By Chief Warrant Officer Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
Half-way between downtown Los Angeles and San Pedro harbor, on a hill top call Dominguez, one single event held January 10-20, 1910, was destined to convert Los Angeles from an agricultural center to a major industrial city –America's First International Air Meet.

The whole idea actually began in St. Louis, Missouri.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss, as the lone American entrant at the First International Aviation Meet at Rheims, France, in August 1909, had won world-wide fame by winning the Gordon Bennett Cup Race and the Prix de la Vitesse.

Following the Rheims Meet, Albert Bond Lambert, a leading industrialist and aviation enthusiast, offered Glenn Curtiss a guarantee of $5,000 to fly his record-making biplane, the "Golden Flyer," at St. Louis, Missouri, in October 1909.

Thousands of St. Louis citizens turned out to watch Glenn Curtiss. The public's interest in Curtiss's flights moved Roy Knabenshue, one of America's pioneer balloonists and dirigible operators, to gather a group of aviators present at St. Louis, including Curtis, to discuss the possibility of capitalizing upon the growing interest in aviation. Their consensus called for the immediate scheduling of a first-class air meet featuring aeroplanes and as many famous aviators as possible. Los Angeles was the ideal choice for a meet to be held in January, 1910.

By late 1909, Los Angeles was looking for the stimulus which such an event could provide. Max Ihmsen, general manager of the Los Angeles Examiner, was sitting in his Los Angeles office one day in 1909 when Dick Ferris walked in and introduced himself as the representative of Roy Knabenshue and the other St. Louis aviators. Max Ihmsen was enthusiastic but offered a suggestion: why not make the meet international in scope? "Let's bring in Europe."

Aviation was big in Europe, yet interest in aviation in the United States was distinctly different –save for a few pioneers, ballooning and dirigible development occupied the interest on this side of the Atlantic –chief among them Roy Knabenshue. By contrast, Europeans had achieved varying degrees of success in aviation. Huge cash prizes for outstanding aeroplane performances, plus encouragement from several European governments had fostered this development. Louis Paulhan was the product of this trend, clearly one of the most colorful aviators on the Continent.

Louis Paulham's fame as a specialist in the daring or unique came about as a result of dual distance and endurance records set of eighty-three and seven-tenth's miles in two hours, forty-three minutes, twenty-four and four-tenths seconds. The feat made him world famous.

Max Ihmsen cabled Edmund Cleary, the manager for Louis Paulhan inquiring his interest in the idea. Louis Paulhan was clearly Europe's aviator of choice, having won first prize in Paris for his new Farman biplane and Cleary was an American promoting his aviation feats. Cleary agreed to bring Paulhan for a fee of $50,000.

The only Americans who could assert claim to competency and experience, both as builders and pilots, were Glenn H. Curtiss and the Wright brothers –Wilbur and Orville.

Ironically, the Wright brothers didn't become overnight celebrities. it wasn't until 1908, five years after their famous flight, when Wilbur Wright traveled to France to demonstrate the Wright Flyer III, which was built three years earlier, at a special exhibition held on August 8 near LeMans, France, that the brothers became celebrities. Wilbur Wright' flying ability so outclassed European flyers that day that he was instantly made a hero.

But it was Glenn Curtiss, the following year, who had achieved the greatest reputation as an aviator on the European Continent as a result of the International Aviation Meet at Rheims, France. This naturally created a rivalry between Glenn H. Curtiss and the Wright brothers here in the United States.
The Air Meet That Almost Wasn't
For some time, Curtiss and the Wright brothers had been involved in a dispute which centered around the Wright's claim that Curtiss was using, on his aeroplane, a stabilizing devise –the aileron. The Wright brothers claimed the aileron as their invention –protected by patents. The Wrights had also projected their claims into the field of European litigation, including France, where they insisted that Henri Farman's aeroplanes likewise had infringed upon their patents.

The Wright brothers sued Glenn Curtiss as early as September, 1909, in an effort to preclude him from making or selling aeroplanes in violation of their patent rights. Upon hearing of the California meet, in which Glenn Curtiss and his team of exhibitioners were scheduled to take part in, they sought to prevent the event from taking place.

Paulhan and his company, consisting of his wife Celeste, Edmund Cleary, and two aviation associates, Didier Masson and Eduard Miscarol, arrived in New York on January 3, 1910, with two Bleriot monoplanes and two Henri Farman biplanes –representing the highest development of European aeronautical science to that date. Fearing that Paulhan's Los Angeles appearance would cause the Wright brothers great commercial damage, as soon as Paulhan set foot on American soil, Edmund Clearly was handed a Federal Summons directing Paulhan to appear in the United States Court of Appeals on the first Monday in February –enjoining their use of their Henri Farman biplane.

The Wright brothers had also obtained a temporary injunction prohibiting the manufacture and sale of aeroplanes by the Herring-Curtiss Company (Curtiss's factory at Hammondsport, New York). Their suit also sought to prohibit Glenn Curtiss' participation in any air meet –especially the Dominguez International Air Meet in Los Angeles. Likewise, Paulhan was so enjoined from using his Bleriot Monoplanes.

A legal turn of affairs, however, was to work to the advantage of the Dominguez International Air Meet.

On January 8, in Buffalo, New York, just two days before the meet was scheduled to take place, a Federal Court granted an order suspending, pending final action, the temporary injunction obtained by the Wright brothers. The suspension was conditioned on the filing, by Glenn Curtiss, of a $1,000 bond which would be forfeited in the event that damages were awarded to the Wrights. The order, however, gave Glenn Curtiss specific liberty to make flights at Los Angeles, and elsewhere, during the time the patent action was in litigation.
The Meet Is On
Dominguez Hill, dubbed Aviation Park, was selected by the aviation committee as the locale for the meet because of its suitability for flying conditions and its proximity to the railroad. At Rheims, France, spectators had to walk some three miles from the train to the air field. Aviation Park was located only a half mile from the Pacific Electric station at Dominguez Junction where a two hundred-foot-long platform was built, designed to accommodate a train every two minutes.

The flying field ran in a north-south direction. A three-mile long fence separated the flight path from the spectator area. The flight pattern was marked by six, ten-foot towers, each surmounting a flagpole. The flight pattern was in the shape of an hexagon with straightaways in front of the gallery and on the opposite side of the filed. The grandstands were able to accommodate some twenty-six thousand people.

Dick Ferris served as the general manager of the meet and chairman of the aviation committee.
Except for the Wright brothers, who refused to participate in the meet, there was gathered at Dominguez what was probably the most representative collection of aviators in America at that time. Flying machines of all sorts, including biplanes, triplanes, and monoplanes appeared from all over the country. Various experimental models such as the multiplane, aerofoil, and ornithopter were also on hand. Not to mention balloons and dirigibles of every make and their pilots.

Charles Willard was there, Glenn Curtiss's famous pupil and the most experienced aviator in America. Lincoln Beachey, a pioneering balloonists and experienced aeronaut who could scoop a handkerchief off the field with his wing tip, and later to startle the world with his inverted flight, loop-the-loop, and mad dash under the Niagara Bridge, was there as was his brother, Hillery Lincoln. Charles K. Hamilton, who would gain fame for the first night flight in America, was also present. Roy Knabenshue was on hand, a pioneer balloonist who had propelled a dirigible at the speed of twenty-five miles an hour. Colonel Frank Johnson, a San Francisco financier and aviation enthusiast, was there with his newly-purchased Curtiss flying machine. Gates M. Fowler shipped a triplane all the way from Pheonix, Arizona.

Representing the U.S. Army was Lieutenant Paul Beck, one of the greatest military signaling experts in the world. Beck was on hand to evaluate the flying machine for military purposes.

But America's leading representative at Dominguez was Glenn H. Curtiss. Curtiss was a deliberate performer, on who shunned spectacular feats for the sake of pure showmanship. He was strictly business and in spite of his aerial achievements, he was intent upon but one thing –selling aeroplanes.

The event was sanctioned by the Aero Club of America, an organization founded in New York City soon after the turn of the century. Composed originally of some three hundred members interested in the science of aeronautics, the Aero Club had, from its beginning, been primarily interested in ballooning. The Club had early assumed the sole privilege of licensing pilots, sanctioning meets, etc. The Aero Club's first president, Cortland Field Bishop, was the events chief judge.
A Place Called Dominguez
America's First International Air Meet
The regular manufacture of aircraft began in Southern California in 1912 when two brothers, Allen and Malcolm Loughead, built and flew their three-place seaplane.

In 1913, Glenn L. Martin built, in Los Angeles, what was to become the first American made aircraft to be used in a wartime bombing operation. Two of Martin's promising employees were Lawrence Bell and Donald Douglas.

Charles Willard was Glenn Curtiss's famous pupil and the most experienced aviator in America.

Another Glenn Martin employee, Charles Willard, became chief engineer for Glenn Martin in Martin's Los Angeles plant. Willard, likewise, remained active in the industry until his retirement in Los Angeles.

Douglas formed his own aircraft company in the Los Angeles area in 1920. By the time of World War II, aircraft plants in California employed three hundred thirty thousand workers, more than the entire population of Los Angeles in 1910.

Charles K. Hamilton gained fame for the first night flight in America at Knoxville, Tennessee.

Of the Dominguez aviators, Charles Hamilton continued to make exhibitions for several years flying in Roy Knabenshue's employment for some time following the Dominguez meet. Roy Knabenshue, a pioneer balloonist who had propelled a dirigile at the speed of twenty-five files per hour, served in various commercial phases of aviation and resided, until his death, in Arcadia, just a short distance from Paulhan's 1910 Santa Anita destination.

Lincoln Beachey drowned in San Francisco Bay in 1915 when his flying machine plummeted into the water. Paulhan left Los Angeles nineteen thousand dollars richer than when he arrived. Following a short tour of the United States, he returned to Europe where he won the Daily Mail prize for the London to Manchester flight on April 27-28, 1910. In 1912, flying a Curtiss biplane, he place third in the first Monaco Hyudroaeroplane race. Paulhan made his last flight as a pilot in 1930, the year that Curtiss died.

Nearly a score of future American aviation leaders, including Roscoe Turner, Carl Spaatz, John Northrop, and James Doolittle, to name but a few, were between the ages of thirteen and nineteen in 1910.
The United States is indebted to the impetus which the Dominguez Meet provided for Glenn H. Curtiss. Curtiss' inventive genius, administrative ability, and technical skill were waiting for the financial backing which his feats at Los Angeles brought him. Following Dominguez, Curtiss organized aeroplane manufacturing on a sound and continuing basis. In 1913-14, he introduced the flying boat into Brazil, Russia, Austria, Italy, and Germany. By 1916, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company had four manufacturing plants and five fields. Its plant at Buffalo, New York, which covered a seventy-two acre site and boasted thirty-one acres of buildings under one roof, was the largest such operation in the world.

In 1919, in cooperation with the United States Navy, Curtiss built the flying boat which made the first crossing of the Atlantic.

The world lost the services of a talented man when Curtiss met a premature death on July 23, 1920.
Paulhan took up, in the Farman, Lieutenant Paul Beck. Climbing to a height of two hundred and fifty feet and cruising at forty miles per hour, Paulham maneuvered Beck over a pre-arranged target laid out on the field. Beck dropped three, small bags of dirt to demonstrate the practivability of bombing gun empacements. Two United States Coast Artillery officers, who made minute observations, pronounced the experiment a distinct success.
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Updated 8 February 2016