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Rare breed — Alberto Santos-Dumont

20 July 2012

Rare breed — Alberto Santos-Dumont

Alberto Santos-Dumont is a man the world has in perpetually short supply. He was born on this day in 1873 and was one of many forging a path toward controlled flight. What made him special and remarkable  was that he accomplished his work while making it available freely, without fees or licenses. The world of aviation was collegial and cooperative back in that day.

Beginning with dirigibles he became internationally famous, winning many prizes at the turn of the 19th Century and evolved to fix wing realizing the limitations of lighter-than-air flight would likely no longer be productive. He was also a brave aviator as flying was especially dangerous in his time. He may have accomplished the first powered flight under power with his14-bis on 23 October 1906, almost three years after the historic flight of the Wright Brothers Wright Flyer I. Brazil claims their native son should have the title of first to fly under power and control due since it needed no catapult to take off — unlike the Flyer. The Flyer has more control and neither aircraft left ground effect, however.

After his success he built perhaps is greatest flying machine, the No. 19 Demoiselle — a high wing monoplane with a tractor propeller but without canard surfaces though with wing warping. She was well ahead of her time in 1908.

Large scale model of Santos-Dumont's No. 19 Demoiselle on exhibit in the Florida Air Museum — photo by Joseph May

Tragically, he killed himself in Brazil suffering from MS and saddened by the use of aircraft in warfare. His house in Petróplis Brazil is a museum and a bust of Alberto is at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington DC.

Alberto Santos-Dumont affects most men’s lives to this day as it was he who popularized the male wristwatch — he commissioned Louis Cartier to make one for him as telling time by pocket watch was potentially lethal while flying in his time. Cartier still carries a Santos line of watches to honor the legacy — and honors the 14-bis in the L’Odyssée de Cartier film advertisement.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 July 2012 07:04

    You are really providing a wonderful service with this blog of yours!! It is impossible , even in this day of the computer (though somewhat easier) to retain the myriad items that fit a gigantic,l dynamic and ever-changing puzzle!. So.. I call it “selective gleaning”!! I have no exact figures, but I’d be willing to bet that every time I’ve opened this blog, I’ve LEARNED…and though at my age (71), it seems to be getting more trickier by the day to retain!…know that this is the kind of activity that keeps the brain functioning!!…

    On yours, I keep saying to myself, “I _never_ knew that!!!, which to me, is a wonderful feeling…

    Who would have ever thought….a Cartier wristwatch!!…designed to free up the danger and risk while flying! I think these perspectives with the freedom to know them are what keeps this world spinning in the positive…in 1909!…and today!…wow!

    thanks once again, Joe…


    • travelforaircraft permalink
      21 July 2012 10:02

      Hello David,

      Apparently both you and I do not frequent Cartier shops! I like your term “selective gleaning” 🙂

      It’s fun looking into things and making connections where they can be found — like you said, it helps to keep an aging brain is shape 🙂

      Thanks again,


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