Last week, I spent over six hours at the Petaluma Airport, meeting with other members of the Petaluma Fred Wiseman Centennial Celebration Planning Committee, in a session that also reflected on the historical significance of his airmail flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa on February 17-18, 1911. It doesn’t make any difference if you believe that Fred Wiseman’s flight was the first “official” or “sanctioned” airmail flight in the U.S. or not. We are celebrating an event that took place in our river town that had both national and worldwide significance, and the audience will be fellow citizens … most of whom were not alive in 1911 and may never have heard of his historic feat.
IMHO, it doesn’t make any difference if he took an oath and was “sworn in” as an “official” Postal Service pilot or not. The basic facts are that Fred Wiseman’s flight carried three letters, 50 copies of The Press Democrat, and a bag of groceries from Petaluma’s Kenilworth Park and was forced to a dairy field just short of Santa Rosa. Eventually, after weighting the information pertaining to the delivery of these letters by air, the Smithsonian Institution on May 15, 1947 confirmed Wiseman’s feat as the world’s first official air mail flight.* The main reason for this confirmation came because one of the letters carried in the flight was from the Petaluma Postmaster, John E. Olmstead to the Santa Rosa Postmaster, H.L. Tripp.
We, in Petaluma and throughout Sonoma County will be highlighting Wiseman’s flight because 100 years ago, he make a flight that wasn’t preplanned to be a “first.” It turned out to become recognized as a “first” because the U.S. Postal Service created that “designation” which started a debate, that was eventually settled by the Smithsonian Institution’s opinion on May 15, 1947.
Our local 2011 Centennial Celebration will also be extended to acknowledge the collective efforts of many other aviation pioneers of the early 1900s to advance mankind’s ability to design and build “flying machines” that would eventually travel through space to other parts of our solar system. The ability for humans to fly has certainly come a long way in 100 years.
* Historical material: Stan SStrout Collection