First President to Fly
Since the days of George Washington, presidents have had an interest in aviation. Ballooning provided fascinating possibilities for leisure, innovation, and war. But it wasn’t until October 11, 1910 while participating in the Missouri State Republican Party’s campaign, that the first president flew in an airplane.
On October 11, 1910, former President Roosevelt flew in a Wright Company Model B plane. The pilot was Arch Hoxsey, a member of the Wright exhibition team.
“All you have to do is look at some of the newspaper reports to see just how stunning the exhibition flights really were,” according to Tom Crouch, author of the Wright brothers biography The Bishop’s Boys. “People were fainting. People were absolutely dumbfounded to see this thing in the air. It’s clear that the exhibition teams had an extraordinary psychological impact.”
At 42 years old, Teddy Roosevelt remains the youngest person to become President of the United States. One of his top priorities was conservation, and along with leading the progressive movement of the time, regulating railroads, and promoting ‘pure’ food, he established numerous national parks.
On March 25, 1898, Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long about the future of the flying machine. “The machine has worked. It seems to me worth while [sic] for this government to try whether it will not work on a large enough scale to be of use in the event of war.”
The Wright Company Model B plane weighed in at 1,250 pounds and had a 39 foot wingspan. By 1911, the Wright Company was building one plane per week, but could take more than four months to fulfill each order. While the Wright Company did not ship overseas, Europe’s aviation industry quickly grew thanks to the oncoming First World War. In 1910, French companies had sold nearly three hundred airplanes. The U.S. industry did not achieve that level of production for several more years, and the Wright Company never attained such numbers. (Learn more by reading “The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry” by Edward J. Roach, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park researcher)
Fun fact: the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) has the framed letter from Roosevelt in 1898 in the commanding officer’s in port cabin.