Robert G. Fowler

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Robert G. Fowler
Robert G. Fowler (1884-1966) piloting his airplane on September 5, 1911.jpg
Fowler with the Wright Model B Flyer called the "Cole Flyer" 1911
Born (1884-08-10)August 10, 1884
San Francisco, California
Died June 15, 1966(1966-06-15) (aged 81)
San Jose, California

Robert George 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]


He was born on August 10, 1884 in San Francisco, California.[2] He married Leonore in 1913.[1] She had been previously married.

Hearst prize[edit]

He left San Francisco, California on September 11, 1911 in an attempt to win the $50,000 (approximately $1,313,000 today) 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 completed February 8, 1912, in Jacksonville, Florida after the deadline, and the prize expired without a winner.

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 on 27 April 1913. Flying from the Pacific to the Atlantic along the route of the Panama Canal construction in a single-engine hydroplane,[5] his passenger and cameraman Ray Duhem filmed parts of the canal during the flight.[1]

Panama Canal under construction. Photo by Ray Duhem, from flight with Fowler, as published in Sunset.

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.[6]

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.[7][8]


The Lowe, Willard & Fowler Engineering Company, was founded on Long Island, New York, in December 1915. It was named for founders Edward Lowe Jr., Charles F. Willard, and Robert G. Fowler, and was also considered to be named after the construction it developed, the laminated wood fuselage. "Lowe provided most of the financing, while Fowler attracted Willard. Lowe soon secured total control, renaming the firm L-W-F Engineering, and Fowler and Willard departed in 1916."[9]

Fowler Airplane Corporation[edit]

In 1918, Robert Fowler established the Fowler Airplane Corporation, located on Howard Street in San Francisco, to build Curtiss JN-4Ds for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.[10][11] It was one of six companies that built the design under license.[12]


He died of a heart attack on June 15, 1966 at his home in San Jose, California.[1] He was buried in the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara, California.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Robert G. Fowler, Aviator, 81, Dead; Pilot Flew Biplane From West to East Coast in 1911". New York Times. Associated Press. 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. 
  2. ^ "Robert George Fowler in the World War I draft registration". September 4, 1918. Retrieved 2016-07-31. 
  3. ^ "Robert George Fowler". Aero America's Aviation Weekly. September 16, 1911. 
  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. ^ McCullough, David, "The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914", Simon and Schuster, New York, 1977, Library of Congress card number 76-57967, ISBN 0-671-22563-4, page 563.
  6. ^ "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. 
  7. ^ "Airman Blames Goethals. Says Colonel Told Him He Could Photograph Canal Forts". New York Times. July 12, 1914. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  8. ^ Maria S. Burden, The Life and Times of Robert G. Fowler, (Los Angeles: Borden Publishing Company, 1999), 114. ISBN 978-0-87505-369-1.
  9. ^ Pattillo, Donald M., "Pushing the Envelope: The American Aircraft Industry", The University of Michigan Press, 1998, Library of Congress card number 97-45390, ISBN 0-472-08671-5, page 26.
  10. ^ Burden, Maria Schell, "The Life and Times of Robert G. Fowler", Borden Publishing Company, Los Angeles, California, 1999.
  11. ^ Marshall, David A., "Living on the Cusp - A Memoire", FriesenPress, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, October 2013, ISBN 978-1-4602-1694-1, pages 91, 93.
  12. ^ Johnson, E. R., "American Military Training Aircraft: Fixed and Rotary-Wing Trainers Since 1916", McFarland and Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2015, Library of Congress card number 2014046889, ISBN 978-0-7864-7094-5, page 25.

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