Aviation history was made on November 5, 1911, when Calbraith Perry Rodgers, an inexperienced pilot with only 90 minutes of flight training, landed his American built Wright bi-plane in Pasadena’s Tournament Park before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people, successfully completing the first U.S. transcontinental flight.
Learning of publisher William Randolph Hearst’s $50,000 prize to the first person who could fly coast to coast in less than 30 days, Rodgers, the great grandson of Commodore Matthew Perry, persuaded the Chicago meat packer J. Ogden Armour of Armour and Company to sponsor him. In return, Rodgers would help advertise Armour’s new grape soft drink, “Vin Fiz”, by printing the name on the rudder and under-wing areas of his plane.
On September 17, Rodgers took off from Sheepshead Bay, New York—a trip that would take 49 days and require 70 landings, at least 16 of which were crashes. A special train followed the flight, carrying fuel, repair parts and a crew of mechanics, among them the Wright Brothers’ technician Charles Taylor.
Though missing the prize deadline by 19 days, Rodgers would nevertheless complete the flight by flying and landing in Long Beach on December 10, having taken 84 days—of which only 82 hours had been actual flying time. The “Vin Fiz” would later be given to the Smithsonian Institution.
Photo of Rodgers’ landing in Tournament Park taken by a then 13-year old Pasadena boy, Max Benshoff.
The Charles E. Taylor Collection of Aviation Memorabilia 1901–1955 housed at the Caltech Archives. —LK