A delightful hand-drawn cartoon celebrating Claude Grahame-White’s round-trip flight to Boston Light at the 1910 Harvard-Boston Aero Meet.
The Harvard Boston Aero Meet, jointly organized by the Aero Club of New England and the Harvard Aeronautical Society, took place between September 3rd and 13th, 1910. Twenty-two aviators from around the world descended on Harvard Aviation Field at Squantum Point in Quincy, Massachusetts to compete in nine competitions, including endurance, bomb-dropping accuracy, take-off distance, and landing precision, and one mysteriously named the “Boston Globe Special.”
Prominent among the competitors was English aviator Claude Grahame-White (1879-1959), arguably the first pure celebrity of the aviation age. Neither scientist nor engineer, he was pure entertainer and entrepreneur: After viewing a demonstration by the Wright Brothers in France, he returned to England, bought an airplane from Louis Blériot, taught himself to fly, and set about making his fortune.
“Soon Grahame-White was one of the best-known faces in Europe. Aviation meets were all the rage, and every promoter in town wanted his event to be graced with the dashing Grahame-White. Here, finally, was a charismatic performer, different from the grim-faced fliers who were more scientists that showmen. King Edward VII requested a private demonstration of the flying machine, but then died before Grahame-White could oblige. Instead the airman toured the country’s meets, collecting more than $75,000 (equivalent to approximately $1,200,000 today) in prize and appearance money.” (Mortimer)
Incidentally, the Wrights hated him:
“The Wright brothers loathed the sight of Claude Grahame-White. It wasn’t just the Englishman’s smirking—though undeniably handsome—face that riled the brothers. It was his swagger, his lifestyle and his love of self-publicity. What really drove Wilbur and Orville mad was that in their eyes, Grahame-White was a charlatan, a man who knew nothing about aeronautics except that it was a good way to make a fast buck.” (Mortimer)
Grahame-White wins the “Boston Globe Special”
This anonymous, untitled, hand-drawn cartoon focuses on a single one of the Meet’s contests, the “Boston Globe Special,” in which contestants were challenged to fly from the airfield to the Boston Light and back twice, nonstop,, for a prize of $10,000. The flight involved a round trip of some 25 miles, largely over open water, which at the time required real courage on the pilot’s part, as well as trust in his machine.
Grahame-White was the only contestant willing to make the attempt. He took off for the Light in his Blériot monoplane at 4:35 p.m. and successfully completed his first round trip, though, per the cartoon, he mistakenly took a detour and flew between Long and Thompson’s Island rather than directly over Georges Island. He returned to the field, circled once, and then flew straight to the light and back once again, achieving a similar time (Click here for an photograph purportedly of Grahame-White returning to Squantum airfield after rounding the Light.) When he touched down, the assembled crowd of over 10,000 was in hysterics, and the band struck up “God Save the King.” Grahame-White ended up winning three other events and placing second in three others, bringing his total winnings at the Aero Meet to $21,000. (Harvard Alumni Bulletin)
The cartoon is in fact several images in one. The entire right side is a pictorial map of the Aviation Field at Squantum, the Harbor Islands, and Boston Light, with the routes of Grahame-White’s two round trips prominently indicated. At left are five pictorial vignettes, each with an ever-so-slightly witty caption. In one, for example, a rather unhappy Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtis are shown watching the flight. In another Grahame-White and his Blériot circle Boston Light, above which floats the figure “$10,000.” It is captioned “The “moth” and the flame”… the moth being Grahame-White, of course, and the flame being the enormous cash prize.The cartoon has the look of something created for publication to commemorate Grahame-White’s accomplishment. However, I have been unable to locate anything resembling it in print.
Background from Gavin Mortimer, “Glamour Boy[:] The day Claude Grahame-White thrilled the crowd at the Boston-Harvard meet,” on the web sit of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and “The Harvard Aeronautical Meet,” Harvard Alumni Bulletin, vol. XIII no. 1 (Oct. 5, 1910), pp. 10-11.