Rufus Porter
(May 1, 1792 - August 13, 1884)

Artist, musician, teacher, promotor, inventor and founder of Scientific American magazine
A 20th Century man born in the 18th and lived in the 19th Century

Aerial Navigation

In 1849, Porter, convinced that one should be able to travel from New York to San Francisco, published Aerial Navigation: New York and California in Three Days. This publication and another An Aerial Steamer was reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society, edited by Rhoda R. Gilman in 1969. In her introduction she wrote:

"On a succession of wintry Wednesday nights early in the year 1849, audiences in the cavernous amphitheaters of New York City's Tabernacle Church at Broadway and Worth Street witnessed a curious demonstration. A toy-sized model airship, shaped like a long cigar and driven by two small propellers with clockwork motors, rose lightly from the pulpit and to the accompaniment of cheers from the watchers began a wide circle in the air. Following the tilt of its rudder, it made the round of the great chandelier that hung from the center of the dome, then returned obediently to the platform from which it was launched.1 "
The mood of the day is further captured as Gilman writes:
"Posters and handbills proclaimed the little machine the work of two men, but it was Rufus Porter, the principal inventor, who explained its construction. He also told of plans for building on the same lines a hydrogen-filled flying ship 800 feet long and capable of carrying a hundred passengers across the continent in three days. Some of the hearers were impressed, others skeptical. A few reacted like the editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, who wrote after learning of the demonstrations: 'It would seem as if the gullibility of human nature kept even pace with the wit of knaves, and that nothing could be proposed for an exhibition too preposterous to find believers...Now, a flying machine... can never be steered. Yet, as in the analogous instance of perpetual motion, there will be found dolts to believe in it, we suppose, to the end of time.'2 "
An earlier reprint of Porter's Aeriel Navigation is the 1935 Lawton R. Kennedy publication of the original pamphlet along with three Currier & Donnelly burlesque color prints. The pamphlet and prints were owned by Templeton Crocker. Both of these reprints contain insight and analysis to the practicality of Porter's designs and the public's reaction.

View these publications and burlesque plates.

View Porter's The Travelling Ballon from the December 25th, 1847 issue of Scientific Mechanic.

Porter probably started desiging his airship in the 1820's, as far as is known none of his models or early test ships remain today. The New England Air Museum displays Silias M. Brooks Hot Air Balloon Basket. Built in 1870 it is believed to be the oldest aeronautical artifact in the United States. Brooks lived in Plymouth, Connecticut. Click To read more about 18th and early 19th Century flight in Connecticut at the New England Air Museum.


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Old_tools/rufuspor updated April 3rd, 2007
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