Mr. Kellogg’s flying machine
Lamkin’s History of Henry County, Missouri makes only brief mention of the sad story of a Clinton, Missouri, inventor, A.A. Kellogg, who in 1893 – ten years before the Wright brothers' first powered flight -- built an airship.
A story in the Kansas City Journal for July 3, 1893 reported that Kellogg became interested in aeronautics after seeing reconnaissance balloons used in the Civil War and had since invented “a number of airships, none of which worked satisfactorily.”
His new model consisted of a hydrogen-filled canvas gas bag seventy feet long and twenty feet in diameter at its widest point, attached to a frame forty feet long. It was propelled by a small, battery-powered electric motor connected to four six foot wings on each side.
Kellogg had been constructing his airship inside the Agricultural Exposition building in Kansas City for two months before a story appeared in the June 17 Kansas City Star (June 17, 1893, p. 1) under the heading “It will not sail the air.” The story recounts the skepticism of George Schreiner, “an aged German” of Kansas City, Kansas who had made a lifelong study of aerial navigation. Schreiner inspected Kellogg's airship and doubted it would fly, though he refused to give his reasons.
“I have devised plans for every conceivable kind of ship,” Schreiner told the Star reporter, "and have drawings in my possession from which I hope to build a ship some time. I believe that somebody will build a ship some of these days that will navigate the air, but as yet I have never seen anything approaching perfection in that line.”
The basic problem, said Schreiner, was finding a suitable engine: “Our motors are too heavy, and we must devise a scheme for a lighter motor, and that is what I am working on now…. something that will combine electricity and magnetism, which I am certain can and will be done.”
Undaunted by Schreiner’s pessimism, Kellogg prepared to make a test of his flying machine. “Little remains to be done,” the July 3 Star story reports, “except to inflate the huge gas chamber and lash it to the framework.” A public exhibition was to be given at Merriam park, after which the inventor proposed to take the craft to the great Columbian Exposition in Chicago to give visitors “a birdseye view of Midway Plaisance.”
Kellogg had worked on his project for years, and was buoyed by the encouragement of visitors to the Exhibition building, except for “an old woman and Mr. Kellogg says she called him a crank.” But, he said, “I don’t see how it can fail.”
On June 29, the Daily Journal announced: “Kellogg and Oswald’s great air ship will be given a trial trip at Merriam Park on the Fourth of July…. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the great ship navigate the air.” Casper Oswald, a wealthy farmer and stockman of Urich, Missouri, was Kellogg’s financial backer.
The July 2 issue of the Daily Journal carried an advertisement for the flight with a drawing of the craft; the story in the July 3 issue of the Journal was headed optimistically “Ready to paddle the air.” Kellogg and Oswald intended to disassemble the ship, then reassemble it at the Exposition Driving Park for a flight on July 3 before exhibiting it at Merriam Park on July 4.
The July 3 Journal story reports that, contrary to the pessimistic Schreiner, "a number of mechanics who have studied the science of aerial navigation” believed Kellogg’s small electric motor would be able to propel the ship “except in strong headwinds.” The Journal reporter goes to enthusiastic lengths describing the mechanics of Kellogg’s airship, including eccentrics for adjusting the wings’ pitch and shafts and worm gears to control their speed of revolution.
July 4, 1893 came and went without seeing the airship aloft, however. Apparently the flimsy craft had collapsed while being reassembled: it is described in a July 7 Star article as lying in Exposition park in a “conglomerate mass of gas pipe, canvas, cogs, wheels, bamboo sticks and sails,” with some parts broken or missing.
According to a story in the Daily Journal on July 5, Kellogg had contracted to make two exhibition flights but kept neither agreement. The Exposition park demonstration having failed, the managers of the park attached the airship, so no trial trip at Merriam could be attempted. Meanwhile Kellogg and Oswald had left town, “disappointed over the failure to get the machine in motion.” Later, they sued the Exposition park management for $5000 for preventing the machine being taken to Merriam Park for its heavily advertised ascension.
The Star's July 7 article reported that Kellog's machine, having “persistently clung to the ground among the weeds at Exposition park for several days,” had been moved to a “secret location in Armourdale.” A new financial backer was said to have been found and reconstruction was promised, “secure from the gaze of the curious and the skeptical.”
In the meantime, says the sardonic writer of the Star's July 7 story, the Kansas City public will have to await some morning when it will be "astounded to see the ship under the triumphant control of Inventor Kellogg bravely breasting the waves of the atmosphere and performing incredible evolutions a mile above the earth. Then will the skeptical be confounded and the unsympathetic rendered envious at the vindication of Kellogg and the realization of his cherished hopes.”
But nothing further was heard or seen of the Kellogg-Oswald flying machine. In any case, with its lighter-than-air technology it would never have matched the achievement of the Wright Brothers ten years later, though the Wrights also faced a host of skeptics and sardonic reporters who believed heavier than air flight was impossible.
A.A. Kellogg deserves a small but honorable place among American aviation pioneers who were attempting to develop airships capable of controllable aerial navigation.
February 17, 2012