No doubt about it, Fred J. Wiseman was Santa Rosa’s homegrown Elvis in 1910. Consider this measurement of fame: Wiseman and his airplane appeared at the racetrack that year but he didn’t fly – the winds were bad that day. In a motorcycle race also at the event, a guy set the world speed record but in the Press Democrat, the record-setting got a distant second billing to the introduction of Wiseman and his team to the crowd.
|Wiseman-Peters biplane at Santa Rosa racetrack, May 9, 1910. PHOTO: Sonoma County Library
The Rose Carnival that year was to be the first opportunity for the public to see the Wiseman airplane – and likely the first chance for locals to see any airplane at all. It was only a couple of years since the Wright Brothers had become household names and planes of any sort were rare birds indeed, particularly on the West Coast; the first flying exhibitions came to California earlier in 1910, and at the San Francisco show only a single pilot actually flew. Not a week passed without newspapers featuring aviation stories on their front pages, telling of new records set for distance or speed or of terrible accidents. Both Santa Rosa papers avidly covered that sort of news, with added breathless coverage of Wiseman’s efforts to design and build an aircraft in a Windsor pasture. All this (and more!) was covered in the intro, “Fred J. Wiseman, Hometown Bird-Man.”
A week before the aircraft was put on display, the Press Democrat began beating the drums to build excitement. During Rose Carnival weekend it was to be seen in the empty lot at Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue (current location of the Rosenberg building, which was constructed in 1922). No detail was too small; there were articles about workmen clearing away junk scattered on the lot, building a tent, that it took “three big wagons to haul the airship to town in its many sections” and that there would be a small admission price to view the machine up close, with school kids getting a free peek. The paper assigned Tom Gregory, the best writer in town, to take a spin and describe the experience (he hated it). At the end of Carnival weekend it was promised Wiseman would fly at the race track. “There will probably be one of the greatest assemblages of people gathered there to witness the flights that has ever assembled in this city,” gushed the PD.
Come the last day of the Carnival, everyone was primed to see a man fly for the first time. “As soon as the airship was brought onto the track the immense throng of men, women and children were all attention,” reported the Press Democrat. “Every movement of the bi-plane as it was wheeled along the track was watched with intense interest.” Alas, the winds were choppy, so nothing to see – except for Wiseman’s wave to the crowd and that little matter about the world speed record (68.7 MPH, if anyone cared).
In the ten weeks following the no-fly at the Carnival, Wiseman was plagued with awful luck. The big tent near Windsor where he and Jean Peters built the plane burned, destroying all their tools, research notebooks, and spare parts. Fortunately the aircraft was moored outside the tent and unharmed. It was brought down to Noonan’s field at the edge of Santa Rosa city limits (North Park, at the intersection of North St. and 15th is a good approximation) where Wiseman crashed it the next day in a test flight, completely destroying the propeller. Repair would be costly because the 7-foot, 6-inch propeller, along with the wing cloth lost in the fire, were the only imported parts used in construction. Damage was estimated at $1,000.
Wiseman and his partners had no time to waste because the plane was due to be shown at the Fourth of July fair in Petaluma. With Peters and Don Prentiss he began rebuilding and remarkably the plane was fixed and ready to fly again, just two weeks later.
Fred immediately crashed again, this time hitting a fence in Kenilworth Park on July 3rd.
Confidence was apparently deeply shaken, both in Wiseman’s flying ability and faith that they really had an airworthy craft. Plans were postponed for a follow-up exhibition flight in Petaluma: “The committee wishes to be positively sure that a flight will be made by the airship before it begins to advertise the event,” reported the Argus, as well as, “Mr. Peters will be at the wheel when it flies again.”
Thus as it turned out, the first official public flight of the Wiseman-Peters airplane happened July 24 in Petaluma, with Jean Peters as the pilot.
Both Peters and Wiseman continued practice flights at Kenilworth Park for the next three months without serious problems, although there was a mechanical failure on one flight that required the engine be sent to San Francisco. Wiseman took a break in September to visit the state fair, where he again competed in an auto race (results unknown, but he apparently did very well) and met with Charles Hamilton, the flying madman who is the topic of the following article and puts Wiseman’s crash record in some perspective.
While at Petaluma that autumn the team built a new aircraft, some 200 pounds lighter than the original. This plane was taken to Reno where exhibition flights were held for a week. They might have stayed longer, had Wiseman not crashed again and destroyed the plane.
Despite the setbacks and particularly Wiseman’s propensity for crashing their expensive airplanes, the Santa Rosa papers never lost faith in their hometown boy. Even when there was no real news, the Press Democrat especially kept cheering away. “Getting Ready To Build An Airship,” read the headline in one non-newsworthy story. “Wiseman Smiles As Airship Flies,” was another, and “New Airship Will Be A Dandy Machine.”
The year 1910 ended with Wiseman et. al. back in Petaluma rebuilding the plane that crashed in Reno. He was now talking about making a 24 mile trip from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. “There will be no flourish of trumpets prior to what Fred Wiseman hopes will be his next accomplishment,” commented the PD. “That will be a great event, not only in the record of Fred Wiseman, but in aviation in this section.” The Petaluma Courier added that he hoped to take Santa Rosa by surprise, landing “early in the morning in time for breakfast.”
ECHOES FROM THE AVIATION FIELDSpecial Free Inspection for School Children Here During Rose Carnival Week
From the aviation field on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West word came yesterday that Aviators Wiseman and Peters are putting finishing touches on their bi-plane and will have everything in readiness for the flights in readiness for the flights in Santa Rosa on the afternoon of May 8.
As will be seen in another column, the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane will be on exhibition in this city prior to the aviation meet. It will be housed in a big tent on the big vacant lot at Fourth and Mendocino streets. For the general public a small admission fee will be charged, but a special free inspection and explanatory talk on the machine and its parts will be given the school children on some day during carnival week on which due notice will be given.– Press Democrat, April 27, 1910
THE SANTA ROSA BIRD MEN GET MANY BIDS TO FLYWiseman and Peters Are Very Much in Demand Now
The fame of the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane has gone far and wide from all over the state. Wiseman and Peters are receiving requests that they furnish aviation meets in many places. Some of the requests are of a very pressing nature, and they are guaranteed substantial financial renumeration. It is needless to say that they feel very much pleased over the attention being given the success of the efforts.
As has already been stated Wiseman and Peters will make their first public flight in Santa Rosa on May 8, the day following the big Rose Carnival, and it will take place at the race track. There will probably be one of the greatest assemblages of people gathered there to witness the flights that has ever assembled in this city.
The Wiseman-Peters bi-plane is considered by experts one of the best if not the best machine that has been constructed. It is the second American machine to be fully manufactured in this country, and that adds much to the importances of the work carried out by Wiseman and Peters…– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910
CLEAR OFF LOT FOR THE AIRSHIP
Lee Bros. men on Thursday commenced to remove the big girders and other refuse from the big Brush lot on Fourth and Mendocino streets, and on the lot the big tent will be erected which will house the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane for several days during the Rose Carnival, and prior to its removal to the aviation field at the race track. At a small admission fee the general public will be admitted to inspect it. On a special day the children of the grammar grades and of the Ursuline College and St. Rose’s parochial school will have an opportunity to see the airship free of charge.– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910
SANTA ROSA HAS AIRSHIP RIGHT IN HEART OF CITY
The Wiseman-Peters airship was brought into town last night and all night mechanics were at work assembling the big machine so that it can be inspected by the public today in the big tent on the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets.
It took three big wagons to haul the airship to town in its many sections, and the arrival of the wagons at the tent caused a big crowd to assemble and much interest was aroused.
It will be remembered that the management promised to allow all grammar school children to take a peep at the airship free of charge. True to the premise the children will be admitted to the tent this morning between the house of nine and eleven o’clock, and it is safe to say that very few will omit the invitation. After that hour a small admission will be charged.
The new engine will be installed in the bi-plane this morning and the machine will remain on exhibition until its removal to the race track to be in readiness for the flight on Sunday afternoon.– Press Democrat, May 6, 1910
WIND PREVENTS FLIGHT OF AIRSHIPEntertainment at the Track Minus Aviation–World’s Record Established by a Thor Motor Cycle
An immense crowd gathered at the race track on Sunday afternoon to witness the racing and the aviation meet. The Wiseman-Peters bi-plane, built by Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters, was ready to tour the air, but unfortunately the high wind of a choppy nature that prevailed, prevented a flight. The crowd, however, appreciated the unavoidable conditions and in consequence were contented with an inspection of one of the classiest airships ever built in this or any other country–by a number of experts pronounced the best–and saw it driven on the ground the full length of the homestretch with Wiseman mounted in the seat which he or Peters occupies when a flight is made. The boys have a machine that can fly and it is their hope before long, due announcement being given to everybody, to fly over Santa Rosa or at least give a free exhibition for everybody. They will keep their word. For the time being the airship will be again at the Laughlin ranch at Mark West, where the aviators will add some more finishing touches. No one regretted the wind conditions half as much as they did and that they were unable to fly.
As soon as the airship was brought onto the track the immense throng of men, women and children were all attention. Every movement of the bi-plane as it was wheeled along the track was watched with intense interest. Fred Wiseman, in response to popular demand, was brought before the grand stand and was introduced by Ira Pyle, who manipulated the megaphone. Mr. Peters and Don Prentiss –the latter an assistant builder were similarly honored. There were calls for Ben Noonan, the treasurer and manager of the Wiseman-Peters bi-plane. Mr. Noonan’s modesty, however, kept him in the background. To tell the truth, knowing Wiseman’s daring, he was somewhat afraid that Wiseman would essay to brave the unfavorable wind conditions and attempt a flight.
It was hoped by sundown that the wind would go down and make a flight possible, but instead of going down its “choppiness” increased, and so there was no flight. Prior to the bringing out of the plane the assemblage was entertained with a number of interesting motor cycle and automobile events.Gets World’s Record
The spectators had the opportunity of witnessing the establishing of the world’s record for motor cycle racing on a dirt track when Earhart, riding a Thor went five miles on his machine in four minutes and twenty-two seconds…It was a wonderful exhibition of speed when Earhart tore along the track at less than a mile a minute speed. The crowd shouted their enthusiasm.
[..]– Press Democrat, May 10, 1910
THE AIRSHIP HAS A NARROW ESCAPETent Burns on the Laughlin Ranch and Wind Blows Aeroplane to Safety
Misfortunes never come singly, Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters, who spent several months building one of the finest airships ever built in the country, feel the truism of the old saying.
Sunday afternoon the tent which housed their bi-plane on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West, was destroyed by fire, together with all their tools, the air-chars and valuable papers containing measurements and other data, some engine parts, a big roll of cloth used only for airships, and some personal effects. The airship, which was fortunately moored outside, escaped serious injury.
It was the strong wind that blew the airship to a place of safety in the big pasture field after the fire had burned the strands of rope holding the machine to the outside poles of the tent. The fire caught the cloth on the rear plane and scorched it. Fortunately the fire was noticed and the flames consuming the cloth were extinguished.
The loss is naturally a very heavy one on the builders, but nothing daunting they are going to repair the damage, get another new roll of cloth and new tools, replace their papers and in short, will not let the disaster of Sunday afternoon, shortly after 5 o’clock, stop them in their determination to make of their airship the greatest success possible. All their friends sympathize with them in their loss and congratulate them on their pluck.– Press Democrat, May 17, 1910
FRED WISEMAN CORDIALLY INVITES THE PUBLIC TO SEE HIM IN FLIGHT NEXT MONDAY MORNING
At the time when the strong wind at the race track prevented a flight of the Wiseman-Peters biplane, Fred Wiseman promised that at some future date he would give a free exhibition for everybody who cared to go to the big pasture field on the Laughlin ranch at Mark West.
Pleased beyond measure with the successful flight he made last Sunday morning, and confident that everything was all right with the mechanism to insure successful flights in the future, Mr. Wiseman will give another tryout flight or flights next Monday morning at the Laughlin ranch, and the public generally is invited to come and here [sic] between eight o’clock in the morning and noon and witness the same.
Monday being a holiday many people will doubtless avail themselves of the opportunity thus offered and it is possible that a train can be secured to run to Mark West on that day.– Press Democrat, May 27, 1910
THE AIRSHIP MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENTWiseman Makes One Pretty Flight But in Another Attempt Wind Strikes Machine
It takes more than a contrary wind, breaking down of an engine, the burning of a tent, the blowing down of a tent, and other accidents to discourage Fred J. Wiseman and M. Peters in their plan to navigate the air in their biplane. Consequently the accident which befell their machine on Saturday morning, when a sudden gust of wind caused it to careen and come down on its side, smashing the propeller and one side skid and other minor damage has not phased the boys and they are already making repairs and mean to make a flight before the thousands of people who gather in Petaluma on the Fourth of July.
Unannounced except to a few friends Wiseman had his airship out in the field on the Noonan place and gave it several runs across the field until about half past nine o’clock Saturday morning. Then the airship raised to a height of about thirty feet and Wiseman made a fine flight for about 150 yards. Two more flights were attempted then came the sudden veer of wind and the airship came down as described from an altitude of fifteen feet.
Fate has apparently been against the boys but they are undaunted. Of course these accidents are very discouraging and possibly would make less determined aviators desire to “yump ye yob.” But not so them.– Press Democrat, June 19, 1910
WISEMAN SMILES AS AIRSHIP FLIESFlight at Petaluma Yesterday Morning Is all the Talk of the Town Now
Fred J. Wiseman came to Santa Rosa yesterday morning and dropped in at the Press Democrat office to greet his friends, and his face wore the biggest kind of a smile. The reason for the very apparent good humor had preceded him. However, for a well known Petaluma resident had already reached town with the news that the Wiseman-Peter biplane had that morning made a very successful flight at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma. Fred was a very happy boy and his pleasure is certainly shared by his host of Santa Rosa friends. Fortune has at last smiled upon the efforts of the Santa Rosa boys, and everybody hopes it will continue. They have as has been claimed on many occasions, a machine that can fly. Of course, it takes practice to make perfect even in the flying and understanding of airships, and as Mr. Wiseman stated yesterday, everything cannot be learned in a day or a month. A re-adjustment of a part of the mechanism of the airship was made and now Wiseman and Peters say they are the masters of the situation. Last night’s Courier had this to say among other things of yesterday morning’s flight.
“A few minutes before seven the machine was pulled down to the southerly part of the park and the engine was cranked with J. W. Peters at the wheel. The biplane ran some two hundred yards along the ground before arising. Mr. Peters had absolute control at all times and when off the ground made a flight of two hundred yards at a distance of fifteen feet in the air.
[..]– Press Democrat, July 7, 1910
IT WILL FLY HOME UNDER OWN POWERDeclaration Made Concerning the Wiseman-Peters Biplane–Another Aviation Meet
The date of the aviation meet exhibition drill, etc., at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma has not as yet been set. It will not take place on Sunday as many local people think but has been put off until later in the month. The new date will be announced in the local papers in due time. The event was postponed as the committee wishes to be positively sure that a flight will be made by the airship before it begins to advertise the event.
Mr. Peters will be at the wheel of the machine when it flies again and as he has already made several flights in the east, he will no doubt give a good account of himself.
The owners of the big airship state that the huge machine will not be taken to Santa Rosa until it flies back under its own power. –Petaluma Argus– Press Democrat, July 16, 1910
AIRSHIP FLIES AS CROWD APPLAUDSWiseman-Peters Biplane Does Its Best Work to Date at Kenilworth Park, Petaluma
Three flights were made by the Wiseman-Peters Biplane in Petaluma on Sunday morning in the presence of a large crowd of spectators, many of whom were from this city, the interest in the success of the machine here being very keen as Fred J. Wiseman is a Santa Rosa boy and he and J. W. Peters and Don C. Prentiss put the airship together on the big Laughlin ranch at Mark West.
The flights of Sunday are only the beginning of greater things to come for the development of the “know how” is all that is required. Those who have seen other airships have always said this airship could fly, and it si being demonstrated. While possibly forty feet was the height attained in Sunday’s exhibition by J. W. Peters. It is know that the big bird can go much higher. The enthusiasm created at Kenilworth Park was such as made the hearts of the aviators glad.
[..]– Press Democrat, July 25, 1910
AVIATOR HAMILTON GETS THE ENGINE
Fred Wiseman of local aeroplane fame, left Petaluma on Thursday for Sacramento, taking with him the engine from the aeroplane that has been housed in the tent at Kenilworth Park since the Fourth of July. According to the Argus Mr. Wiseman took the engine to Sacramento at the request of Aviator Hamilton, who desires to use it in his flights at the state fair, his own engine having proven practically useless.– Press Democrat, September 9, 1910
FRED WISEMAN MAKES A GREAT AUTO RECORD
Fred J. Wiseman returned from Sacramento on Saturday night. He made a great record in auto racing at the State Fair, adding to his prior laurels. Mr. Wiseman went to Sacramento to see Aviator Hamilton on business and was at the track when the aviator had his serious tumble for a distance of one hundred feet. Hamilton escaped with some serious bruises. He was feeling somewhat better on Saturday morning when Mr. Wiseman saw him.– Press Democrat, September 11, 1910
WISEMAN HAS VERY NARROW ESCAPEAirship Partially Wrecked by Sudden Wind Squall Terminating Most Successful Flight
“Reno, Nov. 17–Wrecked in his most successful flight before the Reno public, Fred Wiseman of Santa Rosa narrowly escaped injury at the race track today when his biplane was practically demolished. Rising 40 feet from the ground the birdman was aught in an air eddy from the grandstand, which he overtopped. This overset his machine, sending it crashing to earth. Wiseman was thrown out, but sustained no injuries. When up about 40 feet the biplane commenced to drop, diving straight toward the earth, where Wiseman managed to regain control and altered its course slightly, bringing it back to an even keel. It plunged to earth, the motor spinning furiously, and struck squarely in an irrigating ditch, this preventing the wheels from revolving and allowing a safe alighting.
“There was a crash when the wheels crumpled underneath and jammed through the bottom plane and one of the wings bent and snapped.
“The birdman shut off his engine as he struck, preventing the propeller from tearing the car to pieces. The sudden shock threw Wiseman from his precarious perch, straight into the wires and stays. He was caught in these and wavered to and fro for a few seconds as the machine quivered. Then he extricated himself and jumped away from the debris.
“The aeroplane will probably be taken apart and the broken planes and mechanism packed away for shipment to California…– Press Democrat, November 19, 1910
PETALUMA TO SANTA ROSA IN AIRSHIP MAY BE NEXT VENTURE
The rebuilding of the Wiseman airship, which was damaged in the accident at Reno, Nev., is in progress in Petaluma, and it will not be long before Fred Wiseman will again take his seat amid the wings to fly aloft.
“This airship sport has automobile racing licked to a frazzle,” Wiseman smilingly observed to a newspaper friend in town on Sunday, when he was asked as to the feeling that came over one when mounting into the air and navigating about in space.
“I tell you one thing–that a man has a far better chance of saving himself in an airship when she commences to drop than he has in an automobile race when the wheels skid or the gear goes wrong.”
Fred Wiseman has the airship spirit. He wants to fly. He says he has a machine now that will fly like a bird. There is no longer any question about it, and but for the squall of wind across the Reno race track there would have been no limit to which he could have attained.
There will be no flourish of trumpets prior to what Fred Wiseman hopes will be his next accomplishment–a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. That will be a great event, not only in the record of Fred Wiseman, but in aviation in this section.– Press Democrat, November 23, 1910MORE ABOUT THE COMING FLIGHTIt is to be a Surprise and Wiseman Will Be Here to Eat His Breakfast
Last night’s Petaluma Courier has more to say regarding the coming flight of Aviator Fred Wiseman from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. It is to be a surprise flight. The Courier says:
“A Courier reporter visited Kenilworth Park Thursday afternoon and as usual the men were found busy and preparing themselves for flights.
“The Wiseman-Prentiss squad has removed their engine from the biplane taking advantage of the inclement weather to overhaul it. They have brought about a change in lubricating the engine, having attached taubes to the seat of the operator, whereby he can lubricate the engine while he is on a flight.
“This is a decided advantage over the old system as the operator has plenty of difficulties without turning around to watch the engine. A larger tank has also been installed which will enable the biplane to travel a longer distance without refilling.
“The cross country flight to be made to the county seat will occur shortly. Fred Wiseman will be at the wheel on the occurrence of the flight and has already mapped out his course.
“He will have the park as a starting point, going directly south to Burdell’s station, seven miles below this city. He will reverse at this location and proceed northeasterly following the lower range of the Sonoma mountains for a distance of about five miles then going west to Penngrove, after which he will go north through the valley, following the line of the Northwestern Pacific railroad to the county seat.
“The entire flight will cover a distance of at least twenty-four miles. The intention of the aviator to go south is to tack against the wind which will tend to aid him to ascend faster. He has carefully mapped out this route, finding that he will have less obstacles to pass over his machine and life will be more safe. The aviator will take the county seaters by surprise and he intends to land there early in the morning in time for breakfast.”– Press Democrat, December 17, 1910