Notes from the Past

Notes on the Vin Fiz Flyer

On October 9, 1910, William Randolph Hearst announced a prize of $50,000 for any pilot who flew from either Boston or New York to either San Francisco or Los Angeles with an intermediate stop in Chicago provided the trip was made in less than 30 days and completed prior to October 10, 1911.  The prize attracted the attention of a number of intrepid pilots of the era.  Robert G. Fowler, James J. Ward, Harry Atwood, Earle L. Ovington, and Calbreath "Cal" Perry Rodgers announced plans to compete for the prize.

Cal Rodgers, an unknown 32-year-old pilot, first came to attention when he won the endurance prize offered by the Chicago Aero Club at a meet in the summer of 1911.  He won $11,285 for spending the most time in the air during the 9 day meet.  At about the same time, Harry Atwood was setting a record for cross-country flight by flying from St. Louis to New York's Governors Island in 9 days arriving on August 25, 1911.  Atwood's success and the attendant news coverage made the cross-country prize offered by Hearst seem possible.

Fowler was the first starter.  He headed eastward leaving San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on September 11, 1911.  Two days later Jimmy Ward left Governors Island heading west.  Cal Rodgers used his prize money to buy two custom-made Wright racing airplanes and spare parts for the trip.  He loaded these on a train and headed east at about the same time that Ward and Fowler were already off for the adventure.

The custom Model EX Wright airplane was slightly smaller than the Wright Model B with a wingspan of 32 feet.  The water cooled, 4 cylinder, 4 cycle, engine was rated at 35 hp.  The plane could hit 55 mph.

Harry Atwood was unable to find financial backing for the trip and had to withdraw from the race.  Cal Rodgers had obtained the Armour Meat Packing Company to sponsor his flight to promote its new carbonated grape drink, Vin Fiz.  Cal's plane was to display the product's name and logo on the flat surfaces of his plane and, in turn, Armour would pay him $5 for each mile flown east of the Mississippi and $4 for each mile flown west of the Mississippi.  Armour would also cover the expenses of a private train which would follow the flight carrying his wife, mechanics, Armour officials, the press, a second airplane, and spare parts.

 (to be continued)

-Excerpted from
AIR MAIL an illustrated history 1793 - 1981
Donald B. Holmes; edited and designed by Ladislav Svatos
Published 1981


  Posted February 3, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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