Inducted in 1969
Pioneer Aviator, Designer and Manufacturer, 1911
1878 – 1930
After starting a career as a bicycle racer and builder like the Wright brothers, Curtiss’ interests shifted to motorcycles. In 1907, riding an 8-cycle machine he designed and built, Curtiss set a world speed record of 136.3 mph. He then joined Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association as an engine builder. Curtiss designed the AEA’s third plane, the “June Bug,” and in July 1908 piloted the first official public flight in the U.S., flying one mile. This won him the 1908 Scientific American Trophy. He was awarded the Trophy again in 1909 for flying 24.7 miles in 52 minutes, and later that year won international air race meets in France and Italy. In 1910, he won the Trophy again for the first flight from Albany to New York.
In 1909, Curtiss established America’s first aircraft manufacturing company, and his planes flew on to set new aerial records. In 1910 and 1911, civilian pilot Eugene Ely flew Curtiss aircraft while making the first take off from a naval ship and then the first landing aboard ship. One week later, on January 26, 1911, Curtiss personally flew the first hydroplane (seaplane) for the U.S. Navy in a flight at San Diego. In February 1911, Curtiss carried the first passenger in a seaplane and thereafter fitted wheels to the craft, creating the first amphibious airplane.
In 1914, Curtiss produced a multi-engine flying boat, intended to fly the Atlantic, but World War I blocked the plans. During the war, Curtiss’ factories employed 10,000 workers producing the famous Jennies trainers and seaplanes. In 1919, after Curtiss left the firm, a Curtiss NC-4 flying boat, flown by U.S. Navy pilots, made the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
Curtiss retired from the aircraft business in the 1920s but his planes were the main stock of the famous “barnstormers” and air shows. Curtiss died at age 52 in 1930.