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 Thomas Scott Baldwin

Thomas Scott Baldwin

Marion County, Missouri, USA
Death 17 May 1923 (aged 68)
Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 1, Lot 1285 ES Map grid LM33
Memorial ID 3019 · View Source
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Aviation Pioneer, Pioneer Balloonist, Inventor. He was only 12 years old when he witnessed the murder of his mother and father by marauding renegades during the Civil War. As an orphan, he lived with a foster family until he ran away at the age of 14. Becoming a railroad brakeman, he was discovered by a circus manager while practicing acrobatics atop railroad cars. Accepting a job with the circus, he began traveling as an apprentice acrobat, but soon he was performing on the high trapeze. Not satisfied with his act, he continued to tweak it until he was using a hot-air balloon, which would ascent during his act, as he performed on the trapeze bar hung below. His daring death-defying acrobatics and feats soon made him a star attraction. After acquiring his own hot-air balloon, he quit the circus and began a free-lance tour of the county fair circuit with his brother. Coining the name "Captain Tom", not only to satisfy his ego, but also for name recognition, he continued to enhance his theatrics. Making his first balloon ascent in 1875, he quickly became the star attraction at county fairs all over the country and in Canada and the Far East. He made nearly 3,000 ascents from a balloon and had several close calls, but his seemingly proverbial luck and great skill always lifted him from the most dangerous situations. After ten years, and thousands of shows, the novelty of balloon ascents began to fade and he found himself searching for a daring new exhibition specialty. The brothers rediscovered the rigid parachute, invented a century before, and redesigned it to be lighter, flexible and more compact. They tested their first parachutes with weighted sand bags from cliffs nearby. It would be the daring "Captain Tom" who would attempt the first live jump. Obviously succeeding, he was ready to take his new act on the road. In front of an audience at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on January 30, 1885, he offered the park manager a deal-he would jump from a hot-air balloon for $1.00 per foot of height, with 2,000 feet being the maximum. The crowd, unknowingly, witnessed the first public descent from a balloon with a parachute. He was now dubbed "The Father of the Modern Parachute." His parachute jumps were nothing like the parachute jumps today. Holding onto a ring fastened to his dangling parachute, he would ascend in a sitting position on a small seat beneath his balloon. When he reached the desired altitude, he would pull a rip panel in his balloon to release the hot air, causing the balloon to begin a rapid descent. With the momentum needed to fill the parachute with air, he would then jump from the seat. He, nor his brother ever patented their parachute design and construction. He would later comment, "We never thought anyone else would care to try it." At the turn of the century the luster of his act faded and he set out to create an even greater, more daring act. Intrigued by the work of Alberto Santos-Dumont, the first man to make a successful dirigible flight in 1898; he traveled to France to study motor driven balloons. After struggling over four years to find just the right engine, he finally found a lightweight engine used for motorcycles and built by Glenn Curtiss. Immediately ordering one, he waited hastily for his new engine to arrive, but becoming overly impatient, he made the trek from San Francisco to Hammondsport, New York, to expedite his request. Once arriving in Hammondsport, he was somewhat astonished by the modest factory and rather young Curtiss working alongside his employees. Finding Curtiss inundated with orders, and realizing he had not even begun the work on his engine, he asked for Curtiss to remove an engine from a motorcycle and send it immediately to San Francisco. Completed in July of 1904, his dirigible made it’s first trial flight on the 29th, and its first public flight onon August 3, 1904. The dirigible caught the public’s attention and sparked Glenn Curtiss’ interest in aviation. The California Arrow, and more importantly the Curtiss engine, ignited a new breed of man who daringly risked their lives for a show. It would not only be the public who embraced the dirigible, but soon the Army would see it’s potential and enlisted Curtiss and Baldwin to build the Army’s first dirigible. The airship would be designated as Signal Corps. Airship No. 1, or rather, SC-1, making its first successful flight, completing all Army requirements on August 5, 1908. By 1910 he was searching for a new challenge and found it in the airplane. The Wright brothers were stealing the show with their heavier-that-air plane, and he was determined to do it better. In 1911, he designed his own pusher biplane, one of the first to have a framework with interplane struts of mild steel tubing and wooded frame wings. He named his invention the 'Red Devil' and soon he abandoned his dirigibles in favor of the airplane, but not for long. In 1914, just before World War I, his interest turned to dirigibles again and he designed the Navy's first successful dirigible, the DN-I. Recognizing the need to train fliers, he managed the Curtiss School at Newport News, where one of his students was General "Billy" Mitchell. When the United States went to war, he volunteered his services and became Chief of Army Balloon Inspection and Production and personally inspected every balloon and airship used by the Army in the war. His final employment, however, was with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, continuing to design and manufacture airships. The airships today are his "children."

Bio by: Ugaalltheway

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 4 Jun 1998
  • Find A Grave Memorial 3019
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas Scott Baldwin (30 Jun 1854–17 May 1923), Find A Grave Memorial no. 3019, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .