Calbraith Perry Rodgers (January 12, 1879 – April 3, 1912) was an American aviation pioneer. He made the first transcontinental airplane flight across the U.S. from September 17, 1911, to November 5, 1911, with dozens of stops, both intentional and accidental. The feat made him a national celebrity, but he was killed in a crash a few months later at an exhibition in California.

Early life

Rodgers was born on January 12, 1879, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Calbraith Perry Rodgers and Maria Chambers Rodgers. His father, an Army captain, died on August 23, 1878 prior to his birth. Among his ancestors, Rodgers had Commodores John Rodgers, who was his paternal grandfather, Oliver Hazard Perry, his maternal great-grandfather, and Matthew Calbraith Perry, his great-great uncle.[1] He was a cousin to John Rodgers, a Naval Aviation pioneer known for setting the record of longest non-stop flight by seaplane of 1992 miles (3206 km) on an attempt to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1925.

In 1885, Rodgers contracted scarlet fever which left him deaf in one ear and hearing impaired in the other,[2] which effectively barred him from following the family tradition of naval service. He received his education first at home and then at the Mercersburg Academy. In 1902, Rodgers joined his mother and sister in New York City. He became a member of the New York Yacht Club, and besides boating he rode motorcycles and drove cars. In 1906 he married Mabel Avis Graves; they had no children. The Rodgers resided in Havre de Grace, Maryland.


In June 1911, Rodgers visited his cousin John, a naval aviator, who since March was studying at the Wright Company factory and attending flying school in Dayton, Ohio. Rodgers became interested in aviation. He received 90 minutes of flying lessons from Orville Wright, and purchased a Wright Flyer with John.[3] On August 7, 1911, he took his official flying examination at Huffman Prairie and became the 49th aviator licensed to fly by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.[4] He was one of the first civilians to purchase an airplane.

Instead of flying home, Rodgers entered the 1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet where he competed with the leading aviators of the time. He set several records including the duration record and won $11,285 in prize money.[3]

Cross country flight

On October 10, 1910, publisher William Randolph Hearst offered the Hearst prize, US$50,000 to the first aviator to fly coast to coast, in either direction, in less than 30 days from start to finish. Rodgers persuaded J. Ogden Armour, of Armour and Company, to sponsor the flight, and in return he named the plane, a Wright Model EX after Armour's grape soft drink Vin Fiz.[4] A special train of three cars including sleeper, diner, and shop-on-wheels full of spare parts was assembled to follow Rodgers who planned to fly above the railroad tracks.[3]

Rodgers left from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911, at 4:30 pm. He reached Chicago, the only required stop, on October 8, 1911. His arrival to Chicago attracted national attention.[3]

Rodgers in Pasadena

To avoid the Rocky Mountains, he took a southerly route, flying through the Midwest until reaching Texas. He turned west after passing San Antonio. On November 5, 1911, he landed at Tournament Park in Pasadena, California, at 4:04 pm in front of 20,000 people missing the prize deadline by 19 days. He left Pasadena on November 12, but crashed at Compton. After the Vin Fiz was repaired, on December 10, 1911, he reached Long Beach, California, flew over the Pacific, landed on a beach and taxied the plane into the Pacific Ocean. About 50,000 people came to witness the completion of the first transcontinental east-west flight.[3]

Rodgers had carried the first transcontinental U.S. Mail pouch. The trip required 70 stops and endured countless crashes and aircraft malfunctions. (Rodgers paid $70 a week to the Wright brothers' technician, Charlie Taylor, who followed the Vin Fiz by train and performed necessary maintenance or repairs.[5][6]) The next transcontinental flight was made by Robert G. Fowler.


Rodgers in 1912 fatal crash

On April 3, 1912, while making an exhibition flight over Long Beach, California, he flew into a flock of birds, causing the plane to crash into the ocean. His neck was broken and his thorax damaged by the engine of the airplane. He died a few moments later, a few hundred feet from where the Vin Fiz ended its transcontinental flight.[7] The aircraft in this last flight was the spare Model B he had carried in the special train during the transcontinental flight, rather than the Vin Fiz. The Vin Fiz itself was later given to the Smithsonian Institution by Calbraith's widow, Mabel Rodgers, and is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum.[8] According to contemporary records, his was the 127th airplane fatality since aviation began and the 22nd American aviator to die in an accident.[9] He was also the first pilot who fatally crashed as a result of a bird strike.[10]

Rodgers was interred at Allegheny Cemetery in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

See also


  1. ^ Patrick Clark Rodgers, Calbraith Perry Archived May 2, 2017, at the Wayback Machine., Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Pennsylvania State University, Spring 2010.
  2. ^ About DPA Deaf Pilots Association. Retrieved November 13, 2016
  3. ^ a b c d e Charlie Wentz. Who Was Calbraith P. Rodgers?, American Philatelist, November 2011.
  4. ^ a b Eckland, K. O. "The Epic Flight of the Vin Fiz Flyer". Aerofiles. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  5. ^ Strother, French (January 1912). "Flying Across The Continent: C. P. Rodgers And The First Aerial Trans-Continental Trip". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXIII: 339–345. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  6. ^ Strother, French (February 1912). "Flying Across The Continent: C. P. Rodgers And The First Aerial Trans-Continental Trip: Rodger's Trip From Kansas City To Pasadena". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXIII: 399–408. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  7. ^ "C. P. Rodgers' Aero Plunges Into Surf at Long Beach. Hundreds See Tragedy. Hero of First Transcontinental Flight Victim of His Own Daring. When Lifted From Wrecked Machine His Neck Is Found to Be Broken. Birdman's Home in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Cousin of Lieut. Rodgers in Navy's Aerial Corps. Victim Author of Theory of 'Etherial Asphyxia.'". Washington Post. April 4, 1912. Calbraith P. Rodgers, the first man to cross the American continent in an aeroplane, was killed here instantly late today, when his biplane, in which he had been soaring over the ocean, fell from a height of 200 feet and buried him in the wreck. His neck was broken and his body mangled by the engine of his machine. 
  8. ^ Vin Fiz at NASM https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/wright-ex-vin-fiz
  9. ^ "Aviator C.P. Rodgers Almost Instantly Killed. His Biplane Falls Distance of 200 Feet", Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 4, 1912
  10. ^ Thorpe, John (2003). "Fatalities and destroyed civil aircraft due to bird strikes, 1912-2002" (PDF). International Bird Strike Committee, IBSC 26 Warsaw. 

Further reading

  • Eileen F. Lebow, Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz: the First Transcontinental Flight (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989)
  • E. P. Stein, Flight of the Vin Fiz (New York: Arbor House, 1985) ISBN 0-87795-672-3.
  • Richard L. Taylor, The First Flight Across the United States: the Story of Calbraith Perry Rodgers and His Airplane, the Vin Fiz, (New York: F. Watts, 1993)
  • Linn's Stamp News; January 14, 2002, p. 14; "New 'Vin Fiz Flyer' card found and auctioned"
  • The New York Times; Wednesday, October 11, 1911; Air Record Broken By Aviator Rodgers; Exceeds Atwood's Cross-Country Flight Of 1,265 Miles By Making 1,398 To Date. Marshall, Missouri, October 10, 1911. C.P. Rodgers, the aviator who is trying to make a coast to coast flight, landed at Marshall at 4:23 o'clock this afternoon, exceeding the world's record for cross country aeroplane flight by 133 miles. The world' record of 1,265 miles was made by Henry Atwood in a recent flight from St. Louis to New York. Rodgers has flown 1,398 miles according to railroad mileage.

External links