Claude Grahame-White, a notable English pilot, took first place at the international air meet held at Boston during September 1910. Flying against notable American pilots such as Glenn Curtiss, Walter Brookins, and Ralph Johnson, he won the major prize for an overwater race to the Boston Lighthouse and placed first in other events to become the champion of the event.
This first aero meet in the Eastern United States opened on Sept. 3 at the Harvard Aviation Field at Squantum, Mass., just outside of Boston. Interest in holding an international aviation meeting comparable with those in Europe came from the recently formed Harvard Aero Society under the guidance of James V. Martin, secretary of the society.
The aero meet drew professional aviators from the Wright and Curtiss Exhibition teams. Amateur fliers were also welcomed. The meet drew a lot of excitement and included local Boston crowds, as well as those from New York City. Most Americans had not seen an airplane fly and in New England the first airplane flight had only take place in April.
There were prizes given for speed, altitude, duration, distance and accuracy. The main competition was for a $10,000 prize given by the Boston Globe for the fastest flight over a 33-mile course that required the competitors to fly twice from the Harvard Field over water to the Boston Lighthouse and return.
A Sept. 17, 1910, cover story in Scientific American declared the Boston aviation meeting the “most important thus far held in the United States.” The meet, which lasted from Sept. 3-16, was a popular success with approximately 60,000 spectators and more than $90,000 in prize money awarded.
Twenty-three aviators entered the event at Boston, both amateurs and professionals. The Wrights brought three machines, along with two of their best pilots, Walter Brookins and Ralph Johnson.
Glenn Curtiss also entered three biplanes to be flown by himself and Charley Willard. One amateur of consequence was Clifford Harmon, a wealthy New Yorker who had purchased a Farman biplane at the Los Angeles meet in January. He gained fame in August when he became the first man to fly across the Long Island Sound.
European entries besides Grahame-White were A.V. Roe, also from England, and Didier Masson and F. de Baeder, both successful airmen from France. Grahame-White brought two aircraft: a Farman biplane and a Bleriot monoplane. A.V. Roe brought his own triplane and the French aviators each brought a Vendome monoplane.
Hopes were high for American aviators as Glenn Curtiss recently won a $10,000 prize for flying from Albany, N.Y., to New York City, and Walter Brookins, a Wright pilot, set an altitude record winning him $5,000.
Claude Grahame-White operated a successful motor business and became interested in aviation in 1909 after Bleriot’s crossing of the English Channel. He took lessons in January 1910 at the Bleriot School and earned his French license, becoming the first Englishman to do so. He then set up his own flying school at Brooklands, England.
He participated in early flying meetings and competitions, earning renown for an epic night flight, the first made. His exploits were known in Boston as the local paper had brought local attention to his skills.
While on a trip to Europe, Martin, secretary of the Harvard Aeronautical Society, meet with Grahame-White at an aviation meet at Brooklands. He enticed Grahame-White to participate in the forthcoming Boston Meet with a $50,000 guarantee and expense money. Subject to the money being deposited in a Boston bank, he accepted. It would be his first trip to the States and he was anxious to see the American aviators in action since little was known of them since Glenn Curtiss’s victory at the Rheims Meet the year before.
Grahame-White was billed by the Boston Globe as “an extremely handsome young man of 31, a graduate of Bleriot’s flying school, a splendid horseman, and a crack horseman.”
Among the celebrities at the meet was President William Taft, who had brought his family to see what flying was about. Upon meeting Taft, Grahame-White invited the President for a ride, an offer which the president declined. This was probably a good thing as the president weighed over 300 pounds and the plane would probably never left the ground. Instead, the aviator took up Boston Mayor, John F. Fitzgerald, grandfather of the future President Kennedy, for three laps around the field.
Grahame-White was the top prize winner of the $10,000 prized offered by the Boston Globe for the fastest flight from the field at Squantum over the Atlantic Ocean to the Boston Lighthouse and back around the lighthouse again, a distance of 33 miles over water. He won the contest with a time of 34 minutes, 11.5 seconds at an average speed of 58 miles per hour. Though he had already won the prize, the following day Grahame-White repeated the flight for fun, bettering his time by six minutes.
Ralph Johnstone set the duration record at the meet with a time of 3 hours, 5 minutes, 40 seconds. Brookins set the altitude record with a climb to 4,732 feet.
Not a single American tried the flight to the lighthouse. Glenn Curtiss acknowledged the superiority of Grahame-White’s Bleriot and stated: “It would be silly for me to start out realizing that I was defeated.”
Grahame-White was also the big prize winner at the meet. He won first place in the Boston Light Flight, Bomb Dropping, Speed and Getaway Contests. He also placed second in the Altitude, Duration and Distance contests. He earned a total of $29,600. He also earned extra money by taking spectators on 15-minute plane rides for $500 each.
He took up several well known ladies of Boston and New York Society for their first flights. One socialite, Eleonora Sears, had an 11-½ minute flight of steep banks, Dutch rolls and figures-of-eight in Grahame-White’s Farman, a record fight for a woman passenger in America. Afterwards she stated, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that trip.”
At the Boston meet there were many tricks and stunts performed by other flyers. Grahame-White left such flying to them. His sister reported that her brother remarked, “It’s better to be a live man than a dead hero.”
Grahame-White’s trip to the United States was a sensation. In a short space of time he had become the most publicized aviator in the United States. After Boston a dozen cities begged for his services. In the space of three months he grossed $250,000 in prize money and exhibition fees.
Before he left the States he would pay a visit to President Taft in Washington. He flew over the Washington Memorial and circled the dome of the Capitol building and then landed his Farman biplane on Executive Avenue next to the White House. Taft was not at home, but many officers of the Army and Navy were there to greet him.