Robert G. Fowler

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Robert Fowler with the Wright Model B Flyer called the "Cole Flyer" 1911

Robert Grant Fowler (August 10, 1884 – June 15, 1966) was an early aviation pioneer and was the first person to make a west-to-east transcontinental flight in stages.[1][2]


He was born on August 10, 1884.

Hearst prize[edit]

He left San Francisco, California on September 11, 1911 in an attempt to win the Hearst prize in a Wright biplane equipped with a Cole Motor Car Company engine.[3] After his first day he crashed in Alta, California.[4] His cross-country flight was finally completed February 8, 1912, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Panama Canal[edit]

After becoming the first person to traverse the United States from the West Coast to the East Coast, Fowler became the first person to make a nonstop transcontinental flight by traversing the Isthmus of Panama in 57 minutes in April 1913. Flying from the Pacific to the Atlantic along the route of the Panama Canal construction, his passenger and cameraman Ray Duhem filmed parts of the canal during the flight.[2]

That same month, pictures taken by Duhem of fortifications in the Panama Canal Zone, as well as photos of the Presidio of San Francisco (then an active military installation), were published in Sunset magazine under the title "Can the Panama Canal Be Destroyed from the Air?" After publication, the Department of War asked the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, John W. Preston, to investigate the matter. On July 10, 1914, warrants were issued for the arrest of Fowler, Duhem, writer Riley A. Scott, and Sunset editor Charles K. Field, with Preston stating that new regulations passed by US Congress made it illegal "for a civilian to take or publish photographs of any fortification, whether complete or in process of construction.[5]

The following day the men appeared at the United States Commissioner in San Francisco, with Fowler claiming that they had received the permission of the chief engineer of the canal, Colonel George Washington Goethals before flying: "Col. Goethals not only gave his permission, but he wished us the best of luck, and said he hoped the pictures would turn out well." Their trial was set for that August 10, 1914, but by June 15, 1915, a grand jury had declined to review the case. It was ultimately dropped because evidence was insufficient.[6][7]


  1. ^ Fowler in the World War I draft registration
  2. ^ a b "Robert G. Fowler, Aviator, 81, Dead; Pilot Flew Biplane From West to East Coast in 1911". Associated Press in the New York Times. June 16, 1966. Retrieved 2007-06-21. "Robert G. Fowler, an aviator who flew a biplane from California to Florida in 1911, collapsed and died, apparently of a heart attack, at his home today. He was 81 years old." 
  3. ^ "Robert George Fowler". Aero America's Aviation Weekly. September 16, 1911. "Ocean-to-Ocean Race Begins. San Francisco, California, September 11, 1911 (by telegraph) Robert G. Fowler left the stadium in Golden Gate Park this afternoon on the initial stage of his journey from ocean to ocean for the $50,000 Hearst prize. Word has been received late this evening that he finally came to a stop at Auburn, California, with 128 miles to his credit for his first day's flight, with a total flying time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. Fowler is driving a Wright biplane equipped with a Cole automobile motor. He made his start from here, cheered by a large crowd at 1:35 this afternoon and headed his biplane northeast over Oakland and the Sacramento valley. He reached Sacramento at 3:33, making the trip of 75 miles in 1 hour and 58 minutes. There, after a brief meeting with the governor, Hiram W. Johnson, he mounted to his seat and drove off again toward the distant gap in the snow line of the Sierras through which he hopes to pass. He departed from Sacramento at 5:55, James Rolph, Jr., of the San Francisco Merchants' Exchange; C.C. Moore, president of the Pacific International Exposition, and Frank L. Brown were the official starters at San Francisco. As his provisional schedule reads tonight he will make stops at Elko, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Granger and Cheyenne, Wyoming; North Platte and Omaha, Nebraska; Rock Island, Chicago, Fort Wayne, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Albany and New York City. He will follow the tracks of the South and Northwestern Railroad into Chicago. He is accompanied by a special train, which carried a full staff of mechanics and extra parts for three machines. As Fowler came into Sacramento and alighted on the fair grounds he was cheered by a crowd larger than had ever gathered in the state capital before. His mechanicians had fairly to fight their way through it to reach the machine for the necessary grooming after the first stage of his journey. When the aviator met the governor he asked him if he had any message for the governor of New York. "You are the best message California can send," replied Johnson." 
  4. ^ "Forced to Seek Landing in Mountain Gorge, He Crashes Into Trees and Falls.". New York Times. September 13, 1911. Retrieved 2010-11-26. "Crumpled and broken, the big biplane of Aviator Robert G. Fowler who started yesterday from San Francisco to fly across the continent for the $50,000 prize offered by William R. Hearst, lies in a rocky gorge near Alta, at an elevation of some 3,000 feet, Fowler himself is at Alta in a sanitarium." 
  5. ^ "Aeroplane Camera Got Fort Secrets. Government Starts Its First Prosecution Under Law Protecting National Defenses". New York Times. July 11, 1914. Retrieved 2009-01-16. "Warrants for the arrest of Charles K. Field, editor of The Sunset Magazine and former President of the Bohemian Club; Robert J. Fowler, an aviator; Ray S. Duhem, a photographer, and Riley A. Scott, a writer, were issued today at the request of John W. Preston, United States Attorney here." 
  6. ^ "Airman Blames Goethals. Says Colonel Told Him He Could Photograph Canal Forts.". New York Times. July 12, 1912. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  7. ^ Maria S. Burden, The Life and Times of Robert G. Fowler, (Los Angeles: Borden Publishing Company, 1999), 114. ISBN 978-0-87505-369-1.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burden, Maria S. (2009). The Life and Times of Robert G. Fowler. Borden Pub Co. ISBN 978-0-87505-369-1. 

External links[edit]