July 9, 1892|
San Francisco, California
|Died||October 2, 1911
|Green Lawn Cemetery
|Known for||First person to fly across the Continental Divide|
Cromwell Dixon (July 9, 1892 – October 2, 1911) was a teen dirigible pilot and the first person to fly in an airplane across the Continental Divide.
Cromwell Dixon was born in San Francisco; later his family moved to Columbus, Ohio. As a boy, Dixon showed his inventing skills by building a rollercoaster for the neighborhood kids; in 1903 he built his own motorcycle. When he was 14, he was dubbed "the youngest aeronaut in the world" when he won first prize for dirigibles in the 1907 International Balloon Race in St. Louis, Missouri with his home-made, human-powered dirigible he called the "Sky-cycle." He flew eight miles and crossed the Mississippi River on the way. After this success, he issued stocks to finance a mechanical version of his dirigible. On his seventeenth birthday, he flew in a self-made dirigible balloon over Dayton, Ohio. He continued to show his airships across the United States and Canada well into 1910. On September 4, 1910, he nearly crashed into the sea with his motor-powered dirigible when the engine failed at a height of 500 feet (150 m) during a flight at the Harvard aviation meet in Boston, Massachusetts. He eventually landed only 10 feet (3.0 m) from the water's edge.
By 1911, Dixon had switched to heavier-than-air craft, flying a Curtiss, and he received his air pilot license (#43) on August 6, 1911. In September 1911, he performed in his Curtiss "Pusher" plane at the Helena, Montana fair. On September 30, he flew from Helena to Blossburg, some 15 miles to the west, through the Mullan Pass. The flight took 26 minutes, and by completing it Dixon became the first aviator to cross the Continental Divide. The same day, he flew back to Helena. The return flight proved to be more difficult; Dixon had problems reaching the necessary altitude, and the flight took 43 minutes. His achievement earned him $10,000, presented to him by Governor Edwin L. Norris.
He died two days later, in Spokane, Washington when his plane crashed at the Interstate Fair. Billed as the youngest licensed aviator in the United States, he made his first flight of the day at 3pm, after having had some engine trouble. Flying his biplane in front of 12,000 spectators, he fell from 100 feet (30 m) into the Northern Pacific railroad cut north of the fairgrounds because of a strong downwind. He died less than an hour later in the hospital.
A monument for his historic Continental Divide flight was erected in 1912, but it was moved a few times over the years. It was finally placed in Morrison Park in Helena on October 6, 2009. The week before, September 30 was declared "Cromwell Dixon Day" by the Lewis and Clark County Commissioners.
- Windsor, H. H. (January 1952). "Balloon Race of 1907". Popular Mechanics: 170–171.
- Dixon, Cromwell (March 1908). "Airship stocks pay well". Popular Mechanics: 128.
- "Cromwell Dixon". Popular Mechanics: 149. October 1909.
- "Airship in danger as its motor stops" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 September 1910. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- "Fliers up at Hempstead" (PDF). The New York Times. 7 August 1911. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- "Flies over the Rockies" (PDF). The New York Times. 1 October 1911. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- "Daring Cromwell Dixon fell to his death at fairgrounds". Spokane Daily Journal. 2 October 1911. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- Kidston, Martin J. (6 October 2009). "Revisiting Cromwell Dixon". Helena Independent Record. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
- Kidston, Martin J. (2007). Cromwell Dixon: A Boy & His Plane. Farcountry Press. ISBN 978-1-56037-473-2.