Harry Atwood

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Harry Nelson Atwood
Harry Nelson Atwood (1883-1967) circa 1913.png
Atwood circa 1913
Born (1883-11-15)November 15, 1883
Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts
Died July 14, 1967(1967-07-14) (aged 83)
Murphy, North Carolina
Cause of death Liver cancer
Resting place Hanging Dog Baptist Church Cemetery
Murphy, North Carolina
Citizenship American
Education Wright Flying School
Spouse(s) Sarah Jenkins
Ruth Satterthwaite (m. 1914–20)

Harry Nelson Atwood (November 15, 1883 – July 14, 1967) was an American pioneer aviator, engineer and inventor.


Atwood was born on November 15, 1883 in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts.

He trained at the Wright Flying School at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio, with fellow students Thomas D. Milling, Calbraith Perry Rodgers and Henry H. Arnold. Within three months of his first lesson he flew a record-breaking 576 miles (927 km) from Boston to Washington, DC, and on July 14, 1911, landed on the White House lawn.[1][2] A prize of $10,000 was offered to Atwood to fly between Chicago and Milwaukee on August 10.[3] Between August 14, 1911 and August 25, 1911 he flew 1,256 miles (2,021 km) from St. Louis to New York City, making 11 stops and spending 28 hours 31 minutes in the air.[4][5] Atwood funded his flying activities with the sale of two different electric meter designs to General Electric.[6]

Aviation career[edit]

Straight out of flight school in May 1911, Atwood became the chief flight instructor for William Starling Burgess whose Burgess Company built a variety of airplanes, including licensed Wright aircraft between 1911 and 1913.[6] In 1912, Atwood signed with the General Aviation Corporation for three years. The company purchased Franklin Park race track in Saugus, Massachusetts and converted it into an airfield, which they named after Atwood.[6] Atwood served as the chief instructor of the company's flight instruction school there from the time it opened until he quit on June 10, 1912 because he could make more money in exhibition flights and because he was disenchanted with fellow instructor Arch Freeman.[7] On May 31, 1912, Atwood made the first airmail delivery in New England. He flew about five miles (8 km) from Atwood Park to the Lynn, Massachusetts Town Commons where he dropped a sack of mail from the plane. The sack was then retrieved by a Lynn postal employee and driven to the post office.[8]


Atwood was married five times. His first marriage was to Sarah Jenkins of Lynn, Massachusetts. The union resulted in two children; Edgar who died at the age of 3 days, and Bethany. The couple later divorced. On March 2, 1914, Atwood married Ruth Satterthwaite in a courthouse ceremony in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. The couple had three children, Katrina, Gene, and Ruth. Atwood and his wife remained wed until she died in October 1920 at the age of 27. His third wife, Helen Satterthwaite, was the widow of Ruth's brother. They were married for 90 days before divorcing. His fourth wife, Mary Dalton died shortly after giving birth to their son, Harry, Jr., in 1930. Harry, Jr. was raised by a minister and his wife. His fifth wife was his housekeeper Nellie Pickens. They had one daughter, Nelda Stiles.[6]


Atwood died on July 14, 1967 in Murphy, North Carolina at age 83.[9][10]


  1. ^ "Taft Greets Atwood after Rainy Flight", New York Times, July 15, 1911
  2. ^ John Carver Edwards, Orville's Aviators: Outstanding Alumni of the Wright Flying School, 1910-1916 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009), 172.
  3. ^ Aero & Hydro. August 5, 1911.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Atwood Ends Record Air Trip. Lands Here 1,265 Miles from St. Louis, Beating Best Previous Flight by 101 Miles". New York Times. August 26, 1911. Retrieved 2012-10-11. Harry N. Atwood, the young Boston aviator, landed at Governors Island at 2:38 yesterday afternoon, at the end of the greatest cross-country flight in the history of ... 
  5. ^ Daniel, Clifton, ed., Chronicle of the 20th Century, Mount Kisco, New York: Chronicle Publications, 1987, ISBN 0-942191-01-3, p. 153.
  6. ^ a b c d Howard Mansfield (1999). Skylark: The Life, Lies, and Inventions of Harry Atwood. Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. ISBN 9780874518917. 
  7. ^ Edwards, John Carver (2009). Orville's Aviators: Outstanding Alumni of the Wright Flying School, 1910-1916. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 63. ISBN 9780786442270. 
  8. ^ "Atwood as Aerial Mail Man". Boston Evening Transcript. May 31, 1912. Retrieved 2011-03-06. 
  9. ^ "Pioneer Pilot Is Dead At 83". Ocala Star-Banner. Associated Press. July 16, 1967. Retrieved 19 August 2012. The man thought to be the last of the pioneer pilots of the Wright brothers flying machines has died at the age of 83. Harry Nelson Atwood, who held several flight records set in the first part of this century, died Friday in a hospital near Murphy. ... 
  10. ^ "Harry N. Atwood, Early Aviator, 83. First Man to Fly Over New York City, in 1911, Dies". New York Times. Associated Press. July 15, 1967. Retrieved 2012-09-20. Harry Nelson Atwood, who set several flying records in the early nineteen-hundreds, died today. He was 83 years old. 

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