Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Early Bird, Part 11

(International Film Service photo, published in the New York Tribune April 24, 1916)

On the night of April 16, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, contemplating the war in Europe and the threat from Germany, strolled to the widow of his White House office and witnessed a flash of light in the sky. It was the first of a series of explosions that brought traffic to a halt on Pennsylvania Avenue and panicked the residents of Washington, D.C. The explosions continued, and then the sky was alight in a trail of fire above the Washington Monument.
DeLloyd "Dutch" Thompson had just "bombed" Washington.

A group calling itself the "National Security League of America" persuaded Thompson to drop onto 20 American cities imitation bombs that carried this message: "This is a fake bomb – but suppose it contained nitro glycerin – what would you do?" Thompson was intrigued by the project, the object being, "to wake up the country... to the dangers of unpreparedness."

His stunt created a national sensation. His purpose, he said, was "to employ the most effective method of impressing officials and members of Congress and the Senate how absolutely at the mercy of hostile aircraft are the great cities of our country.
"I could have blown the White House and Capitol off the map had I been armed with the most deadly explosives, instead of fireworks bombs timed to explode 1,000 feet in the air."

Thompson had been interested in the idea of air warfare ever since two Bulgarians for the first time dropped bombs from a plane on a Turkish railway station in October 1912. It was just a few months later that he and Andrew Drew staged a dogfight and dropped flour bombs during a show in San Antonio, Texas.

The next city to be bombed was New York, two nights later. This time, the war Department was involved in Thompson's plan, having given its blessing for his departure from Governor's Island, even though local officials had not been informed. He dropped five explosive devices, each containing about an ounce of dynamite. The fifth bomb, however, exploded close to the plane and damaged the wing, making it necessary for him to return for an emergency landing.

(Ruth Law in her Curtiss plane with Wright controls)

Thompson bombed Chicago on April 23, in a show that included Ruth Law, the first woman to perform a loop and to fly in darkness. She did two loops over the city that night.
The object of the demonstration, Thompson said, was to alert Congress for the need for as much as $40 million to build an air force and train pilots. But his efforts on the part of national defense would soon be interrupted when his luck came suddenly to a crashing halt.

1 comment:

Ellipses said...

Wow, he'd be disappeared for doing that today!