On May 31, 1968, Dr. Paul Edward Garber, Assistant Direct for Aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum, wrote a paper titled “The Wiseman Airplane and its significance in the history of Airmail, based on its flight of February 17, 1911.” (Posted, below, are a few selected paragraphs from his cover letter dated March 7, 1977, and sent to Mr. A.C. Wallen, Curator, The Donald Douglas Museum & Library, Santa Monica, CA. .) If you haven’t read Part I (posted 11/26/10), yet, it may be helpful to do so before continuing with Part II.
“To correct your impression, I quote from a statement that I wrote May 31, 1968 wherein I reviewe4d the history of air mail and the significance of Fred Wiseman’s flight. ‘Fred Wiseman’s flight of February 17, 1911 has a definite place in the history of air mail but it is not an absolute first.’ …. When I learned from Wiseman about his flight with mail I told him that it was a day prior to the first airplane mail flights sanctioned by a government, and I described to him those flights from Allahabad, India by the French aviator H. Pequet, repeatedly carrying mail in an English Humber airplane during a British government-sponsored United Provinces exposition. …. I still consider Curtis’s flight from Albany to New York as the first in which a letter was carried by airplane in this nation. That was May 29, 1910. I did not learn of an earlier mail flight by Grade in Germany.”
“Continuing with your other questions,– We have accounts by Glenn Martin of his airplane constructed in California in 1909, and obviously earlier than Wiseman’s. We also have records of a flight in a Wright airplane by Parmalee in October of 1910 carrying a bolt of silk from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio. We consider that to be a ‘first’ in air cargo. We have an account of balloon-carried newspapers in the 19th Century.”
“Firsts” have a popular place in history. I am very cautious about assigning an unqualified ‘first’ to an event or accomplishment. There have been times when I assumed that a forward step had been a first until, with further study, I learned of an earlier one. Accurate credits must be assigned to each accomplishment so that all can be fitted together with due recognition.”
Dr. Garber’s four-page document titled, The Wiseman Airplane and Its Significance in the History of Air Mail – Based on Its Flight of February 17, 1911 and dated 5/31/68, included this paragraph in its review of early air mail events and flights: “With Wiseman’s flight … there were two advancements over previous examples of airplane-carried mail: (1) His project was previously announced and presumably could have been used by the general public, although only a few pieces of mail are known to have been carried, and (2) this flight with mail obviously had the sanction of the local postmasters.”
Following a paragraph that recognized the fact that Earle Ovington’s air mail flight on September 23, 1911, was “sanctioned by the Post Office Department in Washington,” and after he had been sworn in by the Postmaster General as the first U.S. airmail carrier,this historical review also stated that “Fred Wiseman’s flight with mail was a single instance. Therefore it was not continued nor flown on schedule, and although the general public in the immediate vicinity may have known of the flight in advance, only a few letters were carried. Nevertheless, to repeat, it has its place in air mail history.”
Nevertheless, on May 15, 1947, the Smithsonian Institution confirmed Wiseman’s feat as the world’s first airmail run. A year later his plane was permanently exhibited at the National Air Museum in Washington, D.C. Locally, the Fred J. Wiseman Monument Dedication ceremonies took place on Saturday, august 17, 1968 at Petaluma’s Kenilworth Park. The monument plaque, was designed by artist Rosa Estebanez and included these words: Fred J. Wiseman made one of the world’s early air mail flights February 17-18, 1911…. It was the first recorded airmail flight sanctioned by a local post office and available to the public.”
Stay tuned for future blogs that will include additional first-hand information pertaining to the historical significance of this early airmail flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa.