(originally published in the Robertson County Times)
J. Mark Lowe - Robertson County Historical Society
Thomas Scott Baldwin was born in 1854. He was a circus trapeze artist in his youth, made his first hot-air balloon ascent in 1875 and entertained at thousands of shows and fairs over the next decade. He is also known as the father of the modern parachute. On January 30, 1885, Baldwin decided to spice up his balloon performance and made one of the first parachute jumps from a balloon in history.
By 1900, Baldwin was generating motorized balloons. Using a motorcycle engine built by Glenn Curtiss, Baldwin created the dirigible, the California Arrow, which flew around the U.S. in 1904. The Army Signal Corps became interested in the airship and offered him a contract to develop a practical dirigible with navigation potential. He completed that task and the Army designed the craft “SC-1” (Signal Corps No. 1).
When the United States entered the World War I, Baldwin volunteered his services to the Army, even though he was 62 years old. He was commissioned a captain in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. He personally inspected every lighter-than-air craft built for and used by the Army during the war. He was promoted to the rank of major during the war. After the war, he joined the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, as a designer and manufacturer of their airships.
Thomas Scott Baldwin visited Robertson County in June 1909. Although his final destination was not formalized, the people of Greenbrier and northern Middle Tennessee participated in a national event.
Follow this account of the Aero Club of America’s National Balloon Race.
“All Sky Races are Heard From – No Mishaps Reported – Two Parties of Aeronauts Say Kentuckians Shot at Them. Indianapolis – June 7, 1909 – All of the balloons that started in the Aero Club of America’s great national race here Saturday have been heard from. The New York, with A. Holland Forbes, came down at 5:10 today and the Hoosier, Capt. T.[homas] S.[cott] Baldwin, pilot, landed at Greenbrier, Tenn. No details regarding the landing of either has been received. The Indiana, Carl Fisher of Indianapolis, pilot and G.A. Bumbaugh, assistant, had come near enough to ground at Shackle Island, Tenn. at 6 o’clock last night to let down two buckets and get a fresh supply of water. They had then lightened ballast and mounted again to the higher currents to continue the race. Shackle Island is twelve miles north of Nashville.
The Cleveland, A.H. Morgan, or Cleveland, pilot, and the University City, J.S. Berry of St. Louis, pilot, have dropped out of the big race. The Cleveland landed eight miles west of Columbus, Ind. At 8 o’clock Saturday night, making but little over forty miles and attributing the poor flight to poor gas. The University City landed near Fayetteville, Lincoln county, Tennessee at 7 o’clock Sunday night after being up twenty-five hours and making approximately 340 miles.
Dr. Goethe Link, pilot, and R.J. Irwin, assistant, flying the Indianapolis, won both the trophies in the handicap race which started at 3:45 Saturday afternoon, just preceding the national race.
The Indianapolis just cleared the Kentucky-Tennessee line and landed at Westmoreland, Tenn. , 45 miles northeast of Nashville. The Chicago landed just north of the state line, at the fair grounds in Scottsville, Ky., 16 miles north of Westmoreland, while the Ohio, the third contestant landed a half mile northeast of Nashville, Indiana at 6:20 Saturday night.
The Indianapolis by its flight won the cup offered for the greatest distance by the Indianapolis Merchants’ Association., having approximately 7 miles the best of the Ohio, and she also won the Fisher trophy for time in the air, having a margin of almost two hours on the Chicago.
The victory of the Indianapolis men and their good cubic feet capacity balloon is considered remarkable in as much as they are new in the game and they started on their flight with but five bags of sand or approximately 230 pounds of ballast. They were provisioned very light. They made 335 miles and were in the air nineteen hours.
A message to the Associated Press from them says their highest altitude was 13,000 feet – approximately two and one-half miles. They were shot as twice as they went over Kentucky, but were not hit. The weather, they reported, was perfect, and the night trip was very pleasant.
A.H. Morgan, pilot, and J. A. Wade, assistant, of the Cleveland, returned to Indianapolis today. They were much displeased over the snowing made by their balloon and while the manufacturer of the craft charge the failure of the flight to a poor quality of gas given that balloon and the Ohio, the two Cleveland men were attributing failure to defective seams.”
Sources: Fort Wayne Sentinel, Indianapolis Star, June 7, 1909.
Next post: we will learn more about the balloon, the Hoosier, that landed in Greenbrier Tennessee and learn what local residents had to say about the craft from the sky.