Calbraith Perry Rodgers

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Calbraith Perry Rodgers
Rodgers in 1911
Born January 12, 1879
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died April 3, 1912(1912-04-03) (aged 33)
Long Beach, California
Cause of death Aircrash
Occupation Aviator
Spouse(s) Mabel Rodgers
Relatives Oliver Hazard Perry
Matthew Calbraith Perry
Calbraith Perry Rodgers (1879–1912) in 1912 fatal crash

Calbraith Perry Rodgers (January 12, 1879 – April 3, 1912) was an American aviation pioneer. He made the first transcontinental airplane flight across the U.S. from September 17, 1911, to November 5, 1911, with dozens of stops, both intentional and accidental. The feat made him a national celebrity, but he was killed in a crash a few months later at an exhibition in California.


Rodgers was born on January 12, 1879, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and later lived in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He contracted scarlet fever which left him deaf in one ear and hearing impaired in the other ear.[1]

He was related to Commodores John Rodgers, Oliver Hazard Perry, Matthew Calbraith Perry and a cousin to John Rodgers, a Naval Aviation pioneer known for setting the then record of longest non-stop flight by seaplane of 1992 miles (3206 km) on an attempt to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1925.

In March 1911, he visited John at the Wright Company factory and flying school in Dayton, Ohio and became interested in aviation. He received 90 minutes of flying lessons from Orville Wright, and on August 7, 1911, he took his official flying examination at Huffman Prairie and became the 49th aviator licensed to fly by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.[2] He was one of the first civilians to purchase a Wright Flyer.

Cross country flight[edit]

Publisher William Randolph Hearst offered the Hearst prize, US$50,000 to the first aviator to fly coast to coast, in either direction, in less than 30 days from start to finish. Rodgers had J. Ogden Armour, of Armour and Company, sponsor the flight, and in return he named the plane, a Wright Model EX designed for exhibition flights, after Armour's grape soft drink Vin Fiz.[2]

Rodgers left from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911, at 4:30 pm. He reached Chicago on October 9, 1911. It was decided to avoid the Rocky Mountains, he would take a southerly route, flying south through the midwest until reaching Texas. He turned west after reaching San Antonio. On November 5, 1911, he landed at Tournament Park in Pasadena, California, at 4:04 pm in front of 20,000 people. He had missed the prize deadline by 19 days. On December 10, 1911, he landed in Long Beach, California, and taxied his plane into the Pacific Ocean. He had carried the first transcontinental U.S. Mail pouch. The trip required 70 stops, and he paid the Wright brothers' technician, Charlie Taylor, $70 a week to be his mechanic. Taylor followed the flight by train and performed maintenance for the next day's flight.[3][4] The next transcontinental flight was made by Robert G. Fowler.


On April 3, 1912, while making an exhibition flight over Long Beach, California, he flew into a flock of birds, causing the plane to crash into the ocean. His neck was broken and his thorax damaged by the engine of the airplane. He died a few moments later, a few hundred feet from where the Vin Fiz ended its transcontinental flight.[5] The aircraft in this last flight was the spare Model B he had carried in the special train during the transcontinental flight, rather than the Vin Fiz. The Vin Fiz itself was later given to the Smithsonian Institution by Calbraith's widow, Mabel Rodgers. According to contemporary records, his was the 127th airplane fatality since aviation began and the 22nd American aviator to die in an accident.[6] He was also the first pilot who fatally crashed as a result of a bird strike.[7]

Rodgers was interred in Allegheny Cemetery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deaf Pilots Association,
  2. ^ a b Eckland, K. O. "The Epic Flight of the Vin Fiz Flyer". Aerofiles. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ Strother, French (January 1912). "Flying Across The Continent: C. P. Rodgers And The First Aerial Trans-Continental Trip". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXIII: 339–345. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  4. ^ Strother, French (February 1912). "Flying Across The Continent: C. P. Rodgers And The First Aerial Trans-Continental Trip: Rodger's Trip From Kansas City To Pasadena". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXIII: 399–408. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  5. ^ "C. P. Rodgers' Aero Plunges Into Surf at Long Beach. Hundreds See Tragedy. Hero of First Transcontinental Flight Victim of His Own Daring. When Lifted From Wrecked Machine His Neck Is Found to Be Broken. Birdman's Home in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Cousin of Lieut. Rodgers in Navy's Aerial Corps. Victim Author of Theory of 'Etherial Asphyxia.'". Washington Post. April 4, 1912. Calbraith P. Rodgers, the first man to cross the American continent in an aeroplane, was killed here instantly late today, when his biplane, in which he had been soaring over the ocean, fell from a height of 200 feet and buried him in the wreck. His neck was broken and his body mangled by the engine of his machine. 
  6. ^ "Aviator C.P. Rodgers Almost Instantly Killed. His Biplane Falls Distance of 200 Feet", Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 4, 1912
  7. ^ Thorpe, John (2003). "Fatalities and destroyed civil aircraft due to bird strikes, 1912-2002" (PDF). International Bird Strike Committee, IBSC 26 Warsaw. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Eileen F. Lebow, Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz: the First Transcontinental Flight (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989)
  • E. P. Stein, Flight of the Vin Fiz (New York: Arbor House, 1985) ISBN 0-87795-672-3.
  • Richard L. Taylor, The First Flight Across the United States: the Story of Calbraith Perry Rodgers and His Airplane, the Vin Fiz, (New York: F. Watts, 1993)
  • Linn's Stamp News; January 14, 2002, p. 14; "New 'Vin Fiz Flyer' card found and auctioned"
  • The New York Times; Wednesday, October 11, 1911; Air Record Broken By Aviator Rodgers; Exceeds Atwood's Cross-Country Flight Of 1,265 Miles By Making 1,398 To Date. Marshall, Missouri, October 10, 1911. C.P. Rodgers, the aviator who is trying to make a coast to coast flight, landed at Marshall at 4:23 o'clock this afternoon, exceeding the world's record for cross country aeroplane flight by 133 miles. The world' record of 1,265 miles was made by Henry Atwood in a recent flight from St. Louis to New York. Rodgers has flown 1,398 miles according to railroad mileage.

External links[edit]