Dr. August Greth’s Airship

 Dr. August Greth's Airship

Dr. August Greth’s airship as it leaves the yard for its first flight, October 18, 1903.  This photo as featured as Quiz #128 on September 30, 2007. Submitted by Susan Fortune.

New information has been posted about this quiz photo of Dr. August Greth’s airship flight on October 18, 1903.  We received an email from Rod Filan, an expert in early aviation.  Rod’s website can be seen at Rod’s comments are valuable corrections and additions to information posted as part of the solution to the quiz.

Dear Sir:

With all due respect, I would like to make comments on the subject quiz and results. There is, of course, nothing that glares in error on your webpage owing, I suppose, to your and your contributors’ thorough research done on Dr. Greth and his airship. Yes I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some oft-repeated inaccuracies.

Firstly, although unrelated to airships, is the novelty automobile photo found by Susan Fourtune.  I believe this is a circa 1906 Model K Tourist Runabout built in Los Angeles. Notice in paricular the access panel on the top of the hood-I have attached an advertisement for reference.

The Auto Vehicle Company which built the Tourist, the best-known west coast make of the era, was found in 1902 by William H. Burnham of Orange Co., Carroll S. Hartman of Pasadena, and Willis D. Longyear of Ocean Park. As you’re probalby aware these “fun photos” were taken at amusement parks and the like, in tents set up by opportunistic photographers and the themes of the settings were contemporary interests-especially aviation.

So, to further explicate the scene, the artist’s representation of a non-rigid airship painted on the backdrop does not lend itself to any known dirigible of the time, and was probably drawn at least tghree or four years after Greth’s experiments-most likely created from a mind’s-eye mishmash of his or her, or other illustrated interpretations of what was considered then, an entertaining and popular trend in inventiveness and daring. To suggest this fantasy airship is the California Eagel is in my opinion wishful thinking and misleading.

Something that was brushed upon my others, but not made clear, is Greth’s own admission that he ditched in the bay to wave the expense of transporting the Cal Eagle back to SF.  He knew full-well that a salvage operation would apparently be considered a rescue and cost him nothing, whereas setting down on dry land would have left him in a lurch.

From John Lienhard’s terrific series “Engines of Our Ingenuity” essay on Greth’s airship, a photo is used on the webpage [originally] described as:

“An unidentified photo of what might be reth’s dirigible-cetainly of one that is similar in style”.

Nothing can be further from the truth. This is without a doubt Santos-Dumont’s airship No. 4-and beyond the fact that both were motorized balloons, this is where the similarities end. I understand that this is an exct transcription from Lienhard’s page, however propagating a falsehood should be avoided by making this known.

Perhaps the most controversial assertion is that Greth’s ascension was the first in the U.S. I do not accept this and is why I clearly state in my annotation on that it was the first American ascension of an airship west of the Mississippi. The first in the U.S. was made by Leo Stevens on on 9 April 1902 at Manhattan Beach, NY. Surrently my research into Steven’s early experiments is incomplete and I will decline to speculate further on the duration and details of the flight.

Like I said at the outset, nothing other than trivial matters-otherwise I very much reading everything you published on this page.  I truly appreciate the time you spent putting it together.

Early American airships (pre-WWI) are a passion of mine and I’ve made it my goal to eventually publish a work that will, hopefully, be seen as a serious resource for enthusiasts and researchers alike. I don’t expect it to be a thought-provoking study-only a compendium of powered lighter-than-air slight in the Americas before and during the progressive era.

Again, thank you for making the interesting discussionon Dr. Greth and the California Eagle available to air-minded hydrogen-addicted aeronuts like myself.

Very best regards, Ron Filan,

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