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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Dec 4, 2021

The 1904 World's Fair brought many wonders from around the globe and highlighted the latest technologies. One of those technologies, powered flight, was in its infancy and was showcased via a competition. Some of the best pioneers of early air flight were drawn to the fair to make a name for themselves and gain a fortune. Excitement and intrigue ensued. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content: Adam Kloppe, 1904 Worlds Fair, Forest Park, Aviation, Transportation, Competition, Sports, Engineering,  ------


Podcast Transcript:  I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ------

For many visitors, going to the 1904 World’s Fair was about seeing the newest technology from around the globe. From the wireless telegraph to electric lights, Fairgoers were inundated with the kinds of technology that would change the world in the twentieth century. ------

It makes sense, then, that Fair planners also wanted to showcase air travel at the World’s Fair. The Wright Brothers had just made their first flight a few months before the Fair opened, and pilots from around the world were testing many different kinds of motor-powered airships and dirigibles. To show off these the promise of these machines, the Fair planners developed an aeronautic competition, and invited pilots and inventors from around the world to participate. To further entice the pilots, a grand prize of one-hundred-thousand-dollars was to be given to the pilot that could navigate the L-shaped course through the fairgrounds and land back in the same spot they took off from. It would be the first public example of powered flight in America, and Fair planners promoted the competition heavily.  ------

Several pilots, including the Wright Brothers, thought the parameters of the competition made a successful run impossible, and declined to attend. But some of the world’s foremost pilots did decide to take on the challenge. This included the Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was perhaps the most celebrated pilot in the world after he successfully piloted his inflated airship through Paris and circled the Eiffel Tower in 1901. For the Fair, Santos-Dumont promised to bring in his newest and most impressive airship. Many experts picked him to win the competition easily. ------

Unfortunately, though, Fairgoers never got to see the famed pilot in action. On June 28, part of Santos-Dumont’s airship was tampered with and destroyed as it sat in a special hangar that had been built on the Fairgrounds. To this day, no one is sure what happened. Some folks believed that one of the other competitors sabotaged his ship. The Fair’s own security force suspected that Santos-Dumont may have sabotaged it himself once he believed that he would not be able to complete the course. He vigorously denied those charges. ------

With Santos-Dumont out of the running, the field now seemed wide open. However, the course did indeed prove too difficult, and no one was ever able to claim the one-hundred-thousand-dollar prize. For getting further through the course than anyone else, American Thomas Baldwin and his pilot, Roy Knabenshue, were awarded $500. ------

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe, and this is eight-eight-one, KDHX, St. Louis.