Anyone who has been interested in history knows that everything you read about an event may or may not be true. Quite often we read two or more versions of the same episode. The stories and articles pertaining to the first air mail flight in the U.S. are not an exception.

One such discrepancy applies to Fred Wiseman’s air mail flight between Petaluma and Santa Rosa on February 17, 1911. (Yes! It took two days to make a flight that lasted 12 minutes, 20 seconds and covered approximately 14 miles. (Some reported 18 miles.) His home-made plane experienced two forced landings, due to equipment failure.

His first mishap was when his engine “sputtered and quit” due to a “gummed” magneto breaker-block. He was forced to land … according to version #1 – about one-half mile, south of the Denman Creamery. Another article (Version #2), states that he “landed at Cinnabar School on Denman Flat. Yet, another article added that, “the students at nearby Cinnabar School had a grandstand seat and their teacher, Helen McMeans, took them to see the craft close-up.”

The above incident happened after Wiseman took off from Kenilworth Park at 12:28 p.m. (others reported 12:30 and 12:38 p.m.), 100 feet West of the J.D. Elis residence. He landed one mile North of Corona Road and 100 yards West of the NWP Railroad tracks. (Hmm, that location is approximately two miles distant from the Denman Creamery spot. Shall we flip a coin, or continue to search for additional information related to this forced landing?)

Another difference of opinion relates to the use of the word “official” in connection with who was the first pilot to fly a letter by air. These two paragraphs were extracted from the Air Mail Postal History site: The first Air Mail Delivery by Plane in the U.S. – “The delivery by airplane that was also sanctioned by a U.S. Post Office (Petaluma, CA) first occurred on Feb. 17, 1911. Private pilot Fred Wiseman flew his own-designed biplane 18 miles from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, taking along three letters, 50 newspapers, and a sack of coffee for the ride.”  First U.S. Airmail Carrier – “On September 23, 1911, Earle L. Ovington was sworn in as the first U.S. airmail carrier. The experienced pilot made a week of test flights, each time making a six-mile roundtrip flight on Long Island, traveling between Garden City airport and the Post Office at Mineola, New York.

After 36 years, in the S.F. Chronicle (5-16-47), Stanton Delaplane wrote: “The Smithsonian Institution squared the record yesterday with the announcement that Fred J. Wiseman, now 70 and a resident of Berkeley, was the first man in the world to carry airmail…. Paul Edward Garber, curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, said Wiseman’s flight was official and that the letters were regularly stamped by the Petaluma postmaster.”

Stay tuned for future blogs related to the Fred Wiseman Centennial Celebration in Sonoma County, February 2011.

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