aviaton history

Jan 1: anniversary of the world’s 1st scheduled airline

The world’s first scheduled airline, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, began operation on January 1, 1914, 110 years ago.

The half-hour flight from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa was 18 miles and the regular fare was $5 one-way.

The flight offered an alternative to the train, which could take up to 12 hours to make the trip, due to the circuitous route required.

The airplane used for the flight could only carry one passenger at a time. And that passenger had to sit next to the pilot in the open cockpit. This is just one of the reasons the airline ceased operations after only three months.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor A. C. Phiel (center) was the first passenger. The pilot was Tony Jannus (right), and the airline’s organizer was Paul E. Fansler (left). 

(Images courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

Museum Monday: Celebrating the black leather jacket

This black leather jacket that Elvis Presley bought from J.C. Penney is one of more than 50 classic black leather jackets on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum.

Today it’s an icon in pop culture and fashion, but the black leather jacket was originally a utilitarian piece of clothing designed to protect travelers.

“In the early part of the 20th century, whether you were flying a plane or driving a motorcycle or a horseless carriage, everything had an open cockpit. So the idea of leather being an appropriate material for transportation gear emerged early on,” said Jim Fricke, curatorial director at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wis.

Early airplane pilot in black leather jacket. Courtesy Library of Congress

The museum’s newest exhibit is “Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket,” which runs through Sept. 3. More than 100 artifacts are on display, including dozens of jackets worn by celebrities and pop culture icons as well as leather jackets from fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace. The exhibit also uses a wide variety of motorcycles, photographs, film footage, literature, advertisements and music to explore how this single article of clothing became such an iconic object in popular culture.

During World War I and II, pilots were photographed looking dashing in their leather bomber jackets, but the public’s fascination with the zippered, wind-protecting garment soared in the 1950s, when Hollywood got hold of it.

“It happened because of the movie ‘The Wild One,’ when Marlon Brando played a motorcycle gang member and wore one of our black leather jackets,” said Jason Schott, COO of Schott Bros. clothing manufacturer and great-grandson of Irving Schott, who is credited with making the first zippered leather motorcycle jacket in 1928.

Brando’s bad-boy image seemed cool, so people wanted that jacket. But because the jacket was associated with hoodlums and juvenile delinquency, many schools tried to ban it.

At the time, leather jackets were considered one way to identify juvenile delinquents, said Fricke, who included memos from an Ohio school district in the new exhibit.

“That made people want it even more,” said Schott. “The jacket just became synonymous with the rugged bravado that Americans seemed to embody.”

Despite a lull during the hippie era in the 1960s, Fricke said, the black leather jacket has maintained its role as the uniform of youthful rebellion and has been seen on everyone from James Dean and Elvis Presley to the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen.

A leather outfit worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2” and leather jackets worn by musicians and celebrities such as Fergie, Gene Vincent and Michael Jackson are among items on display. The exhibit also reunites the Harley Davidson motorcycle bought by a 21-year-old Elvis Presley in 1956 with the motorcycle jacket he bought a few years later, from J.C. Penney.

After leaving Milwaukee, “Worn to be Wild” will move to Seattle’s EMP Museum, home of some of the music and science-fiction artifacts included in the show, and will run from October 2012 through February 2013.

If you’re flying to Milwaukee, you’ll arrive at Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport, which provides free parking for motorcycles and a Harley Davidson shop. Here’s a link to the airport guide for General Mitchell International Airport that is part the 50 airport guides I maintain for USATODAY.com.

My story: Worn to be Wild: Celebrating the black leather jacket first appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin.

The history of flight – in pictures

If you’re in Los Angeles anytime soon, make your way over to the Autry National Center to see Skydreamers, a truly wonderful exhibition of photographs from the collection of Stephen White that documents the history of flight. I put together a History of Flight slide show with some of the images from the show for msnbc.com; here’s a short preview.

Skydreamers_Balloon Ascension

As in this 1871 photo of a balloon ascending over Ferndale, CA, some of the earliest attempts to conquer space were in free floating hot-air balloons. Next came heavier than air machines and, ultimately, rocket ships that can elude gravity and soar into space. Lucky for us photographers and artists were often on hand to document and imagine these journeys.


Otto Lilienthal

In his now classic aviation book, Birdflight as the basis for aviation, published in 1889, Otto Lilienthal outlined his theories on flying based on his study of bird wing structure and the aerodynamics of bird flight. He built and famously experimented with a series of 18 bird-inspired gliders and served as an inspiration for Wright Brothers, who studied his gliding techniques.

Stunt pilot Art Smith became well known for aerobatic flying and for using flares to do skywriting at night, a talent he exhibited on the closing night of San Francisco’s Pan Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Smith later went on to work for the US post office as one the first air mail pilots.

Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh stands in front of his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, shortly after completing the first solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May, 1927. The plane is now in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

In 1934, the Griffith Park Observatory was getting ready to open in Los Angeles. This photograph shows the artist, Roger Haywood, sculpting a section of an exact replica of the moon, reduced to 38 feet.

I’ll post more photos from the Skydreamers exhibition tomorrow, but if you want to start planning a trip to Los Angeles to see the full show, you have until September 4, 2011 to see it at the Autry National Center.

Stuck at… San Diego International Airport?

Heading to or through San Diego International Airport (SAN) anytime soon? Be sure to go early so you can enjoy the art.

In the Terminal 2 East/West corridor (post-security) from now through September 15th, you’ll find Within the Heart of Time and Space, a temporary installation with 15 sculptures by San Diego–based artist Jeffrey Steorts,



Also, through July 2011 in the SAN Commuter Terminal (Pre-security) there’s an exhibit celebrating 100 years of naval aviation, measured from May 11, 1911, when Navy Capt. Washington Irving Chambers, Officer in Charge of Aviation, requisitioned the Navy’s first aircraft from aviator and inventor Glenn H. Curtiss.


For more information – and for more previews of the art and performance program at San Diego International Airport, check the art page of the SAN website. And for more information about services and amenities at SAN, see the SAN guide I created for USATODAY.com.

LaGuardia Airport turns 70!

December 2nd marked the 70th anniversary of New York’s LaGuardia Airport and as part of the celebration the LGA Web site now has a nice slide show of historic airport images.

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 07 04.41

Here are my favorites:

I can’t decide sometimes if its ironic or just plain appropriate that the airport was built on the former site of the Gala Amusement Park, which had been turned into an airfield in 1929.

ScreenHunter_03 Dec. 07 04.45

New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was the one who made sure this airport got built.

“In 1934, upon landing at Newark Airport [in New Jersey!!!], LaGuardia refused to disembark from a TWA flight because his ticket said “New York”. He demanded to be taken to New York, and urged New Yorkers to support a new airport within the city.”

LGA Airport

LaGuardia Airport opened for business on December 2, 1939 and was leased to the Port Authority in 1947. It soon boasted that it was the first airport to have a florist shop, beauty salon, bank, jewelry shop, and brokerage office.


The airport also had a Sky Bar and an outdoor Observation Deck. Admission: 5 cents!


All these photos come from the slide show currently posted on the LaGuardia Airport Web site. You can see the full set of 28 images here.