We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.
The “Aviator Fowler” described in the caption of this postcard is Robert G. Fowler who flew via the Gulf Coast while attempting to make the first transcontinental flight in 1912.1 Fowler started the trip in California, but crashed his plane and while it was being repaired another aviator completed the flight. Despite this setback, Fowler continued his journey, arriving in New Orleans on December 31, 1911. He flew to Pass Christian on January 4, 1912 and the next day, flew over Gulfport on his way to Biloxi. Local newspapers covered the flight:
Fowler performed a short exhibition in Biloxi before flying on to Pascagoula. The Daily Herald said:
This is the first aviation exhibition ever seen in Biloxi, and aside from its spectacular features, it is highly educational as aviation is undoubtedly the newest conquest of man over the elements and one of the greatest sports in the world, representing not only a scientific triumph but a great deal of courage and hardihood on the part of those who pilot the air-craft.2
Fowler was flying a Wright airplane with a thirty-five horse power engine, open cockpit, and a twenty-four gallon fuel tank! He planned to attempt a transatlantic flight after reaching New York, and for that he said he would need a one hundred gallon fuel tank. He told a reporter that “The weather is very cold to fly now and my fingers are frost bitten from yesterday’s flight.”3
Fowler would become the first person to fly across the United States from west to east when he reached the Atlantic a few weeks after leaving the Mississippi Gulf Coast.4
The Daily Herald, 8/28/1911-1/10/1912. MDAH microfilm #29251. This newspaper covered Biloxi and Gulfport.
Forrest Lamar Cooper, “Fowler was first: nine years after Kitty Hawk, the first flier touched down on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast,” Mississippi Magazine 23, no. 5 (May/June 2005), 25-30, 126. On file at MDAH.
1 Forrest Lamar Cooper, from whose collection this postcard was scanned described its provenance in Mississippi Magazine: “Gulfport novelty shop owner E.J. Younghans, ever the entrepreneur, had a photographer ready atop the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad headquarters building. A photo taken by the photographer, perhaps the only one professionally taken, was made into a postcard that became a popular seller for months.” (May/June 2005), 27.
2 “Fowler Faces Head Wind Delays Departure East,” The Daily Herald, January 6, 1912. page 4. MDAH microfilm #29251.
3 “Fowler in Biloxi,” The Daily Herald, January 6, 1912, page 4. MDAH microfilm #29251.
4 Cal Rodgers, the aviator who completed the first transcontinental flight shortly before Fowler, flew from east to west.