Looking back to when we were kids, who didn’t fold up paper into an airplane and fly it across the room. And of course, there were the kits you could get, made out of balsa wood, that you could assemble and fly the airplane. How fun we thought that was!
But can you imagine, at the age of 13, having a dream and making a glider model to fly, and then the next year, designing another model that was the longest model glider flight ever achieved in America at the time?
What time was that? The year was 1894. Who was the kid who did it? Charles Morgan Olmsted, the sixth son of John Bartow Olmsted, the man who Olmsted camp is named after.
In 1894 and 1895, Charles attended Harvard University, and afterward, he went to Gottingen University and Wilhelm Institute and got his Ph.D. from Kaiser Wilhelm.
By 1909, Olmsted had returned to Western New York, when the Buffalo Pitts Co, a manufacturer of threshers and steam engines for tractors and other farm equipment, decided to expand to airplanes as well. Olmsted was given $50,000 and designed a sleek plane of gauge chrome vanadium steel and other material. His efficiency propeller mounted as a “pusher” behind the engine, would drive it.
In 1910, Olmsted and Buffalo Pitts formed a syndicate and became only the third company in the nation, after the Wright Brothers and Curtiss, to be incorporated as an aircraft maker.
In 1912, the Olmsted-Buffalo-Pitts Monocoque Bird airplane, with wings made of chrome-vanadium steel, aluminum and basswood lamination, had a fuselage molded of Monocoque laminated birch.
It was the first time an “airplane” of scientifically engineered design and structure was to be manufactured. It was also one of the first airplanes to be built in Buffalo.
Olmsted established his own firm to make his propellers, which were used by Glenn Curtiss in the flying sea boat airplane the America and Edith, in 1914 and in various World War I military planes.
These flying boats along with Olmsted propellers broke the world weight-carrying record twice in 1914, a MacDonnell hydroplane with an Olmsted propeller set the Navy climb record in 1917 and a LePere fighter clocked in its fastest flight ever with an Olmsted propeller in 1918.
Olmsted propellers also enabled the NC boats to fly with 1,500 pounds more weight, and they also cut the take-off distance in half. They also drove the Curtiss NC-4 flying boat that made the first transatlantic flight from North America to Europe in 1919.
He introduced the design of a low flying, high capacity transport plane that skimmed over water using the wing in ground effect, taking advantage of the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the water surface. The concept gave rise to Howard Hughes’ famous “Spruce Goose” transport plane and the Soviet Union’s massive “Caspian Sea Monster”
When the Buffalo Pitts company completely shut down in 1935, the Olmsted family moved the Olmsted Pusher Plane to a museum in Leroy New York, where it remained until it was donated to the Air and Space Museum. The airplane arrived in three pieces, the volunteers designed three stands in such a way as to support all three pieces independently and put them together for the appearance of a complete center section.
Charles Olmsted went on to teach at the University at Buffalo, worked with a group researching cosmic rays and for a while managed a government building.
His grandson Garrett Olmsted has written a biography of his grandfather in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic flight. The tentative title will be “Buffalo Wings.” It is due to come out in 2019 through the Purdue University Press.
If you want an interesting family to research, the Olmsted family is one for sure. To find out more about your own family or places around town, or the area in general, you can come down to the Lucy Bensley Center, located at 23 North Buffalo St., Springville, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and look at all the research material we have in the file cabinets, on the shelves and through the internet.
We also have a very large selection of Civil War books that cover the men, the war, and towns during that time. We do have a computer available for you to use or bring your own.
Our talented musicians are back to playing twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mercantile and Heritage building, located at 17 Franklin St., along with the Pop Warner museum and carriage house.
We are so fortunate to have a campus of buildings with artifacts and displays set up for the public to view, research materials and good ole music, along with a slew of volunteers to help show you around.
For more information, you can contact us at 592-0094 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.