Aeromarine Airways: First airlines to transport an automobile

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The Biltmore flying boat (Aeromarine model 85/80) at Lake George, NY in the summer of 1921 | (Photo courtesy of Jon Krupnick)

The Aeromarine Plane and Motor company was an early American aircraft manufacturer that was formed in 1914 and pioneered the civilian aviation market. Its subsidiary, Aeromarine Airways, started regularly scheduled flights between major US cities. By the summer of 1922, Aeromarine Airways operated daily flights between Cleveland and Detroit. Within two months, the aircraft had carried 4388 passengers thereby sparking optimism within the company that the general public would accept aviation as an attractive and integral part of transportation. However, this optimism was soon dashed as the flying boat Columbus (Pictured far top) suffered engine trouble and crash landed on heavy seas, claiming the lives of four passengers. Soon after, one of the flying boats from the Aeromarine fleet was destroyed in a Havana Harbour due to a storm.

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Aeromarine baggage tag

Although the damage done to the company’s reputation and assets was severe, the existential problems could not be ignored. A large portion of money spent was on insurance, depreciation and sales promotion resulting in high overhead costs. Unlike other countries, commercial aviation in the United States received no federal funding and relied solely on the innovation and efficiency to spur growth.

Aeromarine hired a public relations man by the name of Harry Bruno.

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Aeromarine’s publicity director, Harry Bruno (second from left) | Photo from “Wings Over America” by Harry Bruno, 1942; Site: http://www.timetableimages.com/i-a/aeromp19.jpg

He was tasked with selling the concept of commercial flight to the public and to gain their trust. He developed a routine where he would fly in one of his flying boats and land in water bodies close to cities in New England. Bruno would invite the local officials and businessmen to view their cities from the air in their flying boat. Advertisements would also be posted on the newspapers. The top brass would be so impressed with the idea of commercial aviation that they would invest in infrastructure for aircraft travel, both land and sea borne. He also took the first aerial pictures of many cities and organised publicity stunts.

In Bruno’s autobiography (Wings Over America: The story of American Aviation), he wrote, “We tried flying infants. We tried publicizing pet dogs of the pilots. We tried…Glamour”. On one occasion, he dropped candy over a city and on memorial day, dropped flowers on the graves of the war dead.

He even used a hoax to gain publicity and reputation. Harry Bruno engineered the first airlift of a Ford Model T in Cleveland. The car entered  freight shed under its own power and was dismantled so that it could be put onboard. The car components were then packed into crates and loaded into the seaplane as witnessed by reporters and photographers. But the engine weighed roughly half of the 1,500lb Ford Model T, which would have been took much even for the huge “Buckeye” seaplane. Four strong men heaved the empty crate labelled “motor” into the “Buckeye” and it took off without missing a beat. Years later, Harry Bruno regretted his deceptive action but claimed that the “Buckeye” could have borne the load of the motor as he learnt much later.

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Ford Model T 1912-1913 model

References:

The Aeromarine Website

History of Air Cargo and Airmail from the 18th Century pg 136

Keyport: From plantation to center of commerce and industry

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