New Hampshire’s First Flights and Early Aviators

Photograph taken in 1911 from the Boston
Journal of pilot Harry N. Atwood and a map
of stopping places along his
flight route.

A story on aviation was reported in the Portsmouth Herald on 13 September 1940.  At that time the New Hampshire State Planning and Development Commission for state airport development provided a basic listing of aviation firsts along with their recommendations for the site of future airports.

Using this information I have researched and compiled what you now read. In addition I’ve incorporated some aviation firsts written about previously here. And yes, I do know that there are other aviation firsts in New Hampshire, including Alan B. Shepard’s space flight in 1961,  and Christa McAuliffe’s space shuttle tragedy in 1986.  The present article is instead about New Hampshire’s earliest fights and milestones.

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First Aviator to Fly (and Land)
An Airplane in New Hampshire — JUNE 1911
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New Hampshire’s first aviator was Harry Nelson Atwood. He was not a native, but he did reside in Greenfield NH for a short while. By a number of accounts he made the first airplane flight within the boundary of New Hampshire. His famous adventure started from Waltham Massachusetts on June 19, 1911. “It was a corker,” Harry said.

New Hampshire Historical Society
photograph of Burgess Wright Aeroplane.
H.N. ATWOOD AVIATOR,
PITTSFIELD NH JUNE 20 1911

Harry Atwood’s own words tell his story best:”My first day’s trip was a grand success. Tomorrow I shall be in Waltham and shall have broken all cross-country records for flying in New England. Today I flew over five cities and many towns, circling each City Hall. This is a passenger. The only trouble I had was with the wind. It was fluky and at times so strong I was making little headway. Then again it would die down and I would be able to speed at a very good rate.

Never Flinched Once.
“I cannot say too much in praise of my passengers. The newspaper men who accompanied me in the air voyage between Massachusetts and New Hampshire showed just what newspaper men are made of. Not once did they flinch. They held on for dear life and enjoyed the trip more than I did, if such a thing is possible.”

Harris & Ewing, photographer.
WRIGHT BROTHERS AIRPLANE,
ETC. HARRY ATWOOD , 1911. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

ATWOOD’S TIME TABLE
Left Miles Arrived
Waltham 4.04 13 Tyngsboro, 4.42
Tyngosboro 5.15 7 Nashua, 5.35
Nashua, 6.15 17 Manchester, 6.43
Manchester, 7.25 18 Concord, 7.50

We left the ground at 4.04 P.M. Thomas A. Luke [1] was my first passenger. We encountered a strong head wind and we had difficulty in reaching Lowell. As we came down to earth I could not find a good place to land and I was compelled to make a number of spirals before I found a satisfactory spot. I made a thrilling volplane of fully 100 feet over the Merrimack river. I finally landed at the upper end of the Lowell boulevard in Tyngsboro at 4.42. The stop was a short one. I had lost time because of the great head wind and as soon as my next passenger, A.J. Phillpott [2] appeared, we ascended at 5:15.

We followed the Merrimac river to Nashua. This was as pretty a trip as I ever took. The river and the surrounding country was a picture in itself. It was true New England seen from the air. We landed on the old State camp ground at 535 without the least bit of trouble. There were at least 3000 persons there to meet us. Many had never seen an airship before and stood about my biplane wonder-struck. We met Mayor Barry [3] and many of the city officials. I left Nashua at 6:15 just as the sun was about to disappear beyond the horizon.”

Joseph P. Toye [4] was my passenger on the trip to Manchester, and we made remarkably good time, taking everything into consideration. The circus grounds in East Manchester was a fine place to land, and we alighted at 6:45. There were more wonder-stricken mill hands to greet us. All had been greatly surprised by the approach of my aeroplane. At 7:25 with H.W. Page [5] I was able to start again on what proved to be the last lap of the day’s journey. The last lap was a wonder. We followed a course mapped out by me and went over Hooksett. I ascended to a height of 3500 feet before I reached Concord. This was the greatest elevation of the entire trip. I easily discovered the dome of the New Hampshire state capitol. The volplane was a magnificent one of nearly 3000 feet. I circled the capitol three times for a good luck, but then could not find a suitable landing place. I cross the river and discovered the State militia camp grounds and dropped lightly there at 7:50 P.M.

Greeted by Governor Bass [6] Governor Bass was there to meet us and we delivered to him messages we had carried from Waltham. The approaching darkness made flying impracticable and we decided to stop for the day. We passed over five cities and scores of towns. My average speed was not more than twenty-five miles and hour, although at times we sailed as fast as a mile a minute. The people that came to see us was a great feature to me of the trip. The crowd thought for sure I was going to smash into the flagpole of the state capitol building, but I fooled them and didn’t get nearer than within three feet of it.”

Tomorrow with a good day and the wind right, I will smash some more records and you can safely say I shall be in Waltham tomorrow afternoon to complete my flying there. The trip was interesting, sensational, spectacular and well, I can’t think of anything else to call it. It was a corker.” [From newspaper article: Atwood in Wild Flight Reaches Concord, N. H. Aviator Atwood; His Start from Waltham for New Hampshire; Map of Trip up to Last Night; published Tuesday, June 20, 1911 in the Boston Journal (Boston, MA), page 1] [ALSO Read more about this tour into New Hampshire].

Head-on view of Harry N. Atwood
in flight over the south lawn of the White House
in a Wright Model B biplane; 14 July 1911;
National Air and Space Museum
Archives, National Air Museum Photography Collection

Much has been written about Harry N. Atwood that I don’t need to repeat here. One event that I found particularly interesting in his life is that on 14 July 1911 he landed his airplane on the south lawn of the White House. The model of the airplane was Burgess Wright Model F (#19), designed under a license by Starling Burgess who designed yachts and airplanes, but also has another connection with New Hampshire. Starling Burgess’ daughter was a beloved New Hampshire dollmaker who went by the name of Tasha Tudor.

The Boston Herald (Boston MA) of May 31, 1911, page 3 wrote about him: “A graduate of only a few days from the Wright aviation school at Dayton, and flying alone in an aeroplane for but the third time, Harry N. Atwood of Lynn gave an exhibition of flying at the Squantum aero field yesterday that, in point of variety and daring, recalled the best days of the Harvard-Boston meet. In beginning his repertoire of aerial feats he surprised the spectators with a series of quick turns and figure eights. by the time he was ready to wheel the machine back to the hangar he had shown his control of the flier in swoops over the bay which just cleared the surface of the water, dips and roller-coaster glides, and flights above the trees fringing the course with a leeway of a few feet. Atwood made 15 flights, and in all he was in the air over two hours, carrying a passenger on all but two of the ascensions. It was estimated that he flew over 100 miles...”

I will simply add some brief information and include a link to a fairly well written biography. Harry Nelson Atwood was born 15 Nov 1883 in Boston/Roxbury MA, son of Samuel S. & Florence (Nelson) Atwood. His father was a coal dealer. He had a sister, Avis Dora Atwood. Harry married 1st) 7 Feb 1906 in Lynn MA to Sarah M. Jenkins, daughter of George & Louise H. (Leslie) Atwood. At that time he was an electrical engineer.  He married several times more and had children. He died 14 July 1967 at Valleytown, Cherokee, NC, District Memorial Hospital following surgery for liver cancer.  He is buried in North Carolina.   [See Biography].

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New Hampshire’s First Airplane Owner(s) — 1920

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Captain Robert S. Fogg and Willis D. Thompson Jr. owned the first plane in the state of New Hampshire, which arrived 4 July 1920 according to an article in the Portsmouth Herald.

Robert Stevens Fogg wearing his
flying uniform. From the 21 June 1932
Rushville Republican newspaper.

Capt. Robert S. Fogg’s life is detailed in a book written by his business partner, Thomas E.P. Rice’s grand-daughter (Jane Rice) called “Bob Fogg and New Hampshire’s Golden Age of Aviation: Flying Over Winnipesaukee and Beyond.”  [see also ‘seaplane base was established at The Weirs in 1923’ milestone listing below].  Robert Stevens Fogg was born 6 January 1897 in MA, son of George O. & Mabel (Perkins) Fogg, and died March 1976. He is buried in Four Corners Cemetery, Croydon NH. In 1900 he was living with his family in Loudon, Merrimack Co. NH, along with older sister Gladys P. Fogg. In 1910 they were all living in Winchester MA, his sister now being married to Milo E. Benedict.  Capt. Robert S. Fogg married 17 July 1923 in Concord NH to Katharine Chandler, daughter of William D. & Lillian M. (Porter) Chandler. She was b. 6 Jan 1902 Concord NH and d. July 1987 in Croydon NH. They had a son, Robert Stevens Fogg Jr. (1926-2015). In 1927 the LA Times reported that on November 10th “carrying 400 pounds of first-class mail, Robert S. Fogg, civilian aviator, took off from the airport (Concord NH) this morning for Montpelier and Burlington, VT. His take-off marked the opening of daily air-mail service to flooded areas in Vermont, which will continue as long as the need exists.” In 1927 reportedly he was the first pilot to take off from the newly built Manchester (NH) Airport. The 1929 Concord City Directory shows a listing for him, Fogg Robert S. (Katherine C.) (Newhamco Air Service) room 301, 3 Capitol. In 1933 he owned Fogg-Longworth Flying Service. In 1935 he had been living in Sanford, Maine. In 1937 the Laconia NH Directory shows: “Fogg, Robert S. (Katherine) mgr Winnepesaukee Air Service Inc r Lakeside av Weirs (Miami Beach Fla). In 1940 the U.S. Census he was living in Brookline MA, a faculty Officer (seaplane consultant), Sea Planes for CAA [Civil Aeronautics Authority]. His last residence according to SSDI was Newport, Sullivan Co. NH. He was a WWI veteran, enlisting in the Air Force on 26 Sep 1941 and honorably discharged 25 Dec 1945. In 1931 he took Viking ship disaster photographs on Horse Island, Newfoundland, Canada.

Willis Duer Thompson Jr. was born May 26, 1895, son of Willis Duer & Abby Morris (Whiton) Thompson Sr., and died January 1973 in Merrimack Co. NH. He resided in Concord NH, and was a businessman and owner of Thompson And Hoague Co. Hardware ; [From “One Thousand New Hampshire Notables”: ed. Concord schools, A.B., Dartmouth College 1917; enlisted Naval Flying Corps, Flight A., April 1917, training at Mass. Inst. Tech.; Norfolk, Va., Naval Base, September 1917-January 1918; commissioned ensign, Pensacola, Fla., Feb 25, 1918; convoying ships in English Channel and patrol work overseas, March 9-December 1, 1918. Residence, Pine Street, Concord, N.H.”] He married 8 October 1921 in Concord NH to Frances Heath, daughter of Willard R. & Gertrude (Dearborn) Heath. They had 3 children: 1) Virginia Thompson, b. 14 Oct 1922, died 5 May 2007, m1) Joseph Gilroy Cox Jr., son of Joseph G. & Helen (Ledwidge) Cox who died 27 Oct 1950. She m2d) 12 Feb 1952 to Joseph W. Brown; 2) Frances Thompson, b. 19 Sep 1924, d. 4 July 2007, m. Gordon Blakney; 3) Willis D. Thompson III, b abt 1929.

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New Hampshire’s First Female Aviator
1929
(obtained pilot’s license)
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Back in March of 2013 I wrote about Bernice (Blake) Perry (1905-1996).  She was born in Manchester, NH and obtained her pilot’s license in 1929.

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     OTHER AVIATION FIRSTS
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New Hampshire native Thaddeus Lowe flew hot air balloons during the Civil War era. He convinced President Abraham Lincoln of their value on the battlefield. At that time he was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. As far as is known he never flew these in New Hampshire.

– A seaplane base was established at The Weirs in 1923.
— SEE Bob S. Fogg, U.S. Mail Pilot Interview in 1925
— SEE Photographs of those early seaplanes.

 – The first airplane performing photographic survey for mapping purposes in May 1925.Plane in N.H. for Survey. The first inspection trip preliminary to the topographical survey of New Hampshire by the federal and state governments was made by Lts. Plank and Gains in a navy deHaviland plane. The airship arrived in Concord, flying from Mineola. The first few days will be devoted to work with the planes, after which the photographing will begin. The photographs are taken at an elevation of about two miles, it was stated.”[Republican Champion published in Newport NH, 28 May 1925].

– The first air service was Concord to Boston started in July 1928.
– The Burlington Free Press, Burlington VT, 1 August 1928, page 5. “Reading Mass, July 31 (AP)–A commercial airplane owned by the New Hampshire Air Service Inc., and piloted by George G. Wilson of Manchester, N.H. was forced by a cracked cylinder to make an emergency landing on the course of the Meadowbrook Golf Club today. Walter Carr of Manchester was a passenger. The plane narrowly missed a bunker but made a safe landing.”

– Granvilles Build World’s Fastest Land Plane — 1932
The Granville Brothers Aircraft Company of Springfield, Massachusetts designed and made racing aircraft, most notably the Gee Bee Model R-1.  Their most famous aircraft, the Super Sportster R, captured the world land plane record of 296.3 mph on September 3, 1932. The Granville Brothers were from Madison, New Hampshire.

– Boston & Maine airways established regular service in 1933.
In October of 1933 Amelia Earhart visited Montpelier VT for “a personal survey trip of the route of a propose extension of the lines of the air subsidiary of the Boston & Maine Railroad and the Main Central Railroad to include service between Boston, Concord NH, White River Junction and Barre-Montpelier VT.

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****ADDITIONAL READING****
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Yesteryear: First Fearless Flyers in New Hampshire

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**FOOTNOTE BIOS**

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[1] Thomas A. Luke was a photographer for the Boston Post newspaper.  He was the son of John & Mary (Tiven) Luke. He married 24 Nov 1908 in Boston MA to Florence Harding, daughter of William & Sadie (Frost) Harding.  Thomas A. Luke also took marine photographs now in the possession of the Peabody Museum in Salem MA.  By 1914 he removed to NY. The Fourth Estate, a weekly newspaper for publishers reported on 14 March 1914 that “Thomas A. Luke of New York, a newspaper photographer employed for thirteen years on the Boston Post, has filed in the Superior Court a $10,000 libel suit against the Post Publishing Company for statements printed about him growing out of the controversy over Joseph Knowles, “the Primitive Man.” The statements were printed in the Post on December 15 and purported to have been written by C.B. Carberry, the managing editor. Luke claims the statements have injured his feelings, business and reputation.”  He died 4 June 1918 age the age of 33 of consumption (tuberculosis).  He was survived by a son, Thomas Courtland Luke, born 16 Feb 1912 in Somerville MA.

[2] A.J. Phillpott was a noted reporter for the Boston Globe newspaper. Anthony John Philpott was born 12 Nov 1861 in Cork, Ireland, immigrated to the United States c1870. He married Georgiana Shaw Miles. She was b. 29 Oct 1866 in Cambridge MA dau of Edmund and Elizabeth Miles. He died 29 Feb 1952 in Medford MA. The 1904 Boston Directory Philpott, A.J. reporter 244 Wash h at Arlington. In 1920 living in Arlington MA, reporter. Naturalized. They had 4 children: Marion Frances Philpot, Harold C. Philpot, Ruth Georgiana Philpot, and Ralph Anthony Philpot who was a Lieut. in the Coast Artillery Corps during WWI.

[3] William H. Barry was mayor of Nashua when Harry Atwood landed in Nashua. Mayor Barry “presented him with two letters. One of them addressed to the mayor of Manchester, Edward N. Smith, and the other was addressed to the governor of New Hampshire, Robert P. Bass. This event marked the first use of ‘aerial post’ in New Hampshire. The contents of the letters asked both men to encourage growth in aviation as well as to send mail through the ‘aerial post.’ [per Nashua Telegraph newspaper, Nashua NH 1 May 1974, page 27.]  William Henry Barry was William Henry Barry was b. 13 March 1878 in Nashua NH, and died 17 March 1958. He is buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Hudson NH. He married Mabel S. Monica. They had 3 children, William H. Jr., Patricia and Jane. He graduated from Nashua high school, Holy Cross College (1898) and Harvard Law School (1902). He was admitted to the NH bar in 1902. He was an attorney, mayor of Nashua 2 terms (1911-1914), public service commission 1933-1934. NH House of Representatives 1923, NH Senator 1931. Member Nashua Elks.

[4] Joseph P. Toye was b 14 March 1890 in Cambridge MA, son of Dennis & Elizabeth Toye. He was a newspaper reporter for the Boston Post / Boston Herald / Boston Traveler newspapers. He died 30 January 1942. His obituary appeared in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald on 30 Jan 1942: “Boston, Jan 30 (AP)– Joe TOye, Boston Traveler editorial writer, nationally-known for his terse style of expressing his opinions, died of illness last night in his home at the age of 52. A member of the Traveler staff since 1922, his assignments as a news reporter took him to four continents before he became an editorial writer in 1929. He accompanied William Cardinal O’Connell on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1924. One of the first newspapermen to enter the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Toye scoffed at those who said he would suffer a curse for doing so.

[5] P.W. Page was a newspaper reporter and aviator.  Phillips Ward Page was born 28 November 1885 in Boston MA, son of Cyrus A. & Anna M. (Phillips) Page. He died December 1917 in France. The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, Vol 27 says: Phillips Ward Page ’09, of Brookline, Massachusetts, Ensign, U.S.N.F.C., killed by accident at Felixstowe, England, Dec. 17, 1917 [when the seaplane he was piloting crashed in the English Channel].  The Portsmouth (NH) Herald reported on 20 December 1917: “Boston, Dec. 20–Phillips W. Page of Brookline, a well-known aviator, and formerly a member of the editorial department of the Boston Herald, was drowned in France yesterday, according to information received in a cablegram by his mother in Washington. The message was forwarded by Mrs. Page to Mrs. A.C. Lane, a cousin, living in Cambridge, and to an uncle, Walter H. Phillips, a stock broker at 50 Congress St., Boston. Page joined the aviation corps of the United States army some time ago, and about a month ago sailed for service in France. The cablegram announcing the death by drowning was sent by Admiral Finn, in charge of the United States aviation corps in Europe. It contained no details of his death. Page became interested in aviation before aerial navigation became a fixed fact. He studied under Harry Atwood, a prominent aviator, and made many sensation flights. He received in instruction in flying from Orville Wright, and later was accepted by the Burgess-Curtiss Company at Marblehead as a full-fledged aviator. His first voyage in the air was as a passenger in the balloon Springfield, piloted by William Van Steet in a trip from Pittsfield to Westfield. Page’s first lessons were taken from R.L. Welsh at the Wright school at Nassau Boulevard, N.Y., and at the time of the big meet at Chicago six years ago, he went to Dayton O., the home of the Wrights, to finish his course. After three hours of flying Welsh pronounced him a capable flyer and turned him over to Orville Wright. Page made numerous flights in the South. He became chief instructor at the Squantum aviation school. Page had many narrow escapes from death. At one time, he was lost in the fog at sea, and drifted for several hours over Cape Cod Bay, steering his machine through cloud banks by means of a compass. He was flying in a hydro-aeroplane, and started from Marblehead for Barnstable, where he was scheduled to make an exhibition flight. He came down in the North River at Scituate and life savers from the Fourth Cliff station put out in a lifeboat and carried him ashore. Page made many thrilling exhibition flights and appeared at fairs, cattle shows and outdoor events in all parts of the United States.

[6] Robert Perkins Bass was born 1 September 1873 in Illinois and died 29 July 1960. He was the 62nd governor of New Hampshire (1911-1913). He graduated from Harvard University in 1896. [see his bio] [Photograph at the Library of Congress].

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5 Responses to New Hampshire’s First Flights and Early Aviators

  1. Dave Brooks says:

    I’m sure you know “Skylark” – his biography. Atwood’s wooden-veneer plane was stored in Milford for a while

  2. Atwood’s first-hand account of his flight paints a very clear picture of why early aviators fell in love with flying.

  3. Pingback: Yeah this is a good, long-running blog - but check Cow Hampshire! - Granite Geek

  4. Jane Rice says:

    Thanks for a good article on early NH aviation-Fogg was not my grandfather, but my grandfather Thomas E.P. Rice was in business with him. The book on Fogg and lots more about NH aviation is available on Amazon “Bob Fogg and New Hampshire’s Golden Age of Aviation.”

    • Janice Brown says:

      Thank you Jane for reading and commenting. The notation about your relationship with Fogg has been corrected. I hope you plan to write more books on New Hampshire aviation!

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