I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be an early pioneer in aviation. So much experimentation. So much fun! So much danger!
Near here was the scene of some of Nebraska’s earliest experiments with flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle. Sometime before late 1907, Martin P. Savidge’s sons set out to construct a flying machine. They began by studying hawks, then went on to build model gliders, then full size gliders, and finally a self-powered airplane. The first public demonstration was successfully held on Sunday, May 7, 1911. Following this success, the brothers spent five years barnstorming throughout the Great Plains. Matt Savidge was among the first to develop a method of skywriting. During these five years, the brothers built and flew three different biplanes. After a barnstorming tour through Texas, the brothers returned home in the spring of 1916 to make repairs and adjustments on their plane. During a test flight on June 17, 1916, the plane crashed, killing Matt Savidge. After this tragedy, the family of the young fliers insisted that they give up their dangerous pastime. Thus ended one of the earliest chapters of Nebraska aviation history.
From the Nebraska Historical Society:
299 S Spruce St, Ewing, Holt County, Nebraska
View this marker’s location 42.255635, -98.34392
I found some articles on the Savidge Brothers; a very interesting family.
Here, a curator from the Smithsonian happens to ride into the town of Ewing on a bicycle trek and discover the Savidge brothers. It’s a nice article.
The airplane depicted in the mural, Tomjack explained, had been built by the seven Savidge brothers—George, John, Joe, Dave, Matt, Phillip, and Louis. The brothers grew up at the turn of the century just south of town, and had a reputation for equipping the family farm with all sorts of ingenious inventions. They launched their flying machine experiments with small gliders, enlisting the farm cats as test subjects, then moved on to larger machines that they rolled down the barn roof and into the air with a brother aboard. With that experience, they set to work on a powered machine based on the classic early biplanes of Glenn Curtiss.
A Curtiss-type pusher plane is shown in the main photo of this article.
Matt Savidge Death
Here is the article text from the Omaha Daily Bee on June 19th, 1916. The Omaha Daily Bee was a newspaper in Omaha from 1871 to (roughly) 1937 when it was bought by the Omaha World Herald.
MATT SAVIDGE IS KILLED IN FLIGHT
Nebraska’s Foremost Aviator loses Control of His Machine at Ewing.C0NTR0L WIRES ARE JAMMED
Ewing, Neb., June 18. (SpecialTelegram.) While making a practice flight this evening, Matt Savidge of the Savidge Brothers Aviation company was almost instantly killed. He
ha spent the winter in .Texas making practice flights and was most successful. He orginated the feat of writing his name in the air in his flyingmachine. His looping won him renown and he was known all over the middle west as a daring flyer.
His brother, John, had just finished a trial flight and upon his return Matt took his place at the. wheel. The machine had just been assembled in’theafternoon and as a result Matt’s last words to his brother John were that he would not try the loop. Turning at a right angle almost as soon as he
left the ground he rose rapidly to a height of about 350 feet. The machine seemed to be under perfect control and he started a short spiral glide.Within fifty feet of the start of the glide, he seemed to lose control of the machine and it was seen to start straight as an arrow for the ground.
His engine was running all the time of his fall and he could be seen trying to regain control of the machine.The machine fell within 200 yards of hundreds of spectators who failed to realize that he was falling to nis
death until the machine struck the ground.The Savidge Brothers were the first boys in Nebraska to fly and have built at least twenty machines. Most of their success has been due to the fact that they have built their own machines. While it will never be known, it was thought the accident was caused by the control wires jamming.
Nebraska Life - 2009
Nebraska Life magazine had a long article the Jan/Feb 2009 issue that had more detail than anything else I found. Entitled “The Savidge Seven” by Alan J. Bartels, it includes the fact that the Savidge Brothers not only built their “heavier-than-air” machine themselves but they advertised in the newspaper for their first public flight on May 7, 1911.
It includes the following, evidence of the Savidge Brothers’ popularity:
For five years the Savidge Brothers barnstormed the Midwest, flying for county fairs, community celebrations and special events. The high flyers were in high demand. On July 4, 1916, they were scheduled to appear in three states. A contract for one engagement in Wyoming stated that the Savidges must agree “To provide an expert aviator and an 80 horsepower aeroplane.” Another for a fair in Minnesota stipulated “Must be flights or no pay.”
The article includes some nice photos as well.
The marker indicates the family urged the brothers to give up their “dangerous pastime”. What it does not say is that after they gave up aviation, they started playing “auto polo”.
Below is a public domain photo from Wikipedia of “auto polo”, which is just what you think it is, playing polo with cars instead of horses. When I first saw this, I thought, “Okay, they’re just running into a ball with cars...”, but they are not. If you look closely at the guy on the left, he is standing on the vehicle and has a mallet in his hand. The opposing team’s mallet is flying in the air.
Here’s another, with a better look at a “mallet man”.
As I said.... a very interesting family.