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Airplane Delivery

Airplane Delivery (12/27/29)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-20837


On June 10, 1919, Mayor Sayle welcomed the first commercial airplane flight to Madison’s Vilas Field. The plane, piloted by Lt. B. R. J. Hassell, was the Society Brand I, an open cockpit Curtiss dual control machine with a checkerboard pattern on its wings. It carried a shipment of Society Brand Clothes for the Baillie-Hedquest Company at 23 East Main Street. The proprietors invited the public to watch the merchandise as it was transferred from the plane to a truck to be rushed downtown to the store.

The landing field had been constructed in Vilas Park on the north side of the lagoon just a few days earlier, in expectation that seven DeHaviland planes from the Recruiting Flying Squadron would stop in Madison. It was expected that at least 50 Madison recruits would be influenced by the Squadron to get in on the ground floor of a new growth business – aviation. Bridges were constructed from the shore of Vilas Park to the lagoon island to accommodate the crowds, but the 10,000 Madisonians who fought traffic jams and crowded streetcars that day were disappointed – the planes never arrived.

The following day the Society Brand I touched down at 3:01. The pilot apologized for being late, since he had “like to broke my arm” dropping posters over Evansville on the flight from Chicago.

Mrs. Harry L. Potter, of 107 East Wilson Street, flew with the pilot on his return trip to Janesville. She was the first, and to that time the only, Madison woman to fly. Her first flight had come on April 19, when the Victory Loan Flying Circus came to town. That day banks and businesses closed, and thousands lined the shores of Lake Monona and the tops of downtown buildings, as German Fokkers and U. S. and British scout planes, flown by American, British and French aces, battled in mock dogfights over the water. Prior to the action, Mrs. Potter flew over the city with Lt. Roberts for 35 minutes.

After her flight on June 10 she described the perils of flying in an open cockpit plane, in sub-zero temperatures, and counseled Madison’s women: “the main thing, all in a nutshell, is to keep one’s nerve, but of course that is easier for some women and not for others. No hysterical person should attempt flight.”

One week later, the Capital Times announced that Mrs. Potter had just purchased a Curtiss dual control. It was to be delivered from Chicago, and Robert Erickkson, a UW student who had flown overseas, would teach her to fly. “Mrs. Potter didn’t mention anything about life insurance, but it is assumed she has that.”

Mark Gajewski