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Alberto Santos Dumont

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Alberto Sants Dumont

Alberto Sants Dumont, Brazilian Father of Aviation

Smithsonian Institution

About Alberto Santos Dumont:

Alberto Santos Dumont was born in the state of Minas Gerais on July 20, 1873, and raised on his family's coffee plantation in São Paulo state. His father was mechanically inclined, adopting mechanical labor saving devices on the plantation, and from him, the young Alberto learned a fascination with motors and engineering. From the books of Jules Verne, and the sunny skies of Brazil, he dreamed of flight.

Following an accident which disabled his father, the family moved to Paris. There, at seventeen, wealthy and scientifically minded, Alberto pursued the study of physics, chemistry, mechanics and electricity to achieve his dream of flying.

In 1898, Alberto had his first flight in a balloon he named Bresil. FRom then until 1905 he built and flew 11 dirigibles, and in 1905, designed a helicopter.

During this time, he was becoming famous in Europe and acquiring friendships among the nobility and aristocracy. When he visited the United States in 1904, he met with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. Roosevelt was interested in flying machines as weapons of war, something Santos Dumont did not care for.

First heavier than air flights:

He returned to Europe to work with his gasoline-powered engines in his dirigibles, and on October 22, 1906, finally succeeded in flying a heavier-than-air machine, a flight of about 60 metres at a height of 2 to 3 metres. He flew his “14-bis” without artificial means to lift off. On November 12, having added ailerons on the wings, he made four more flights, the longest being of 220 metres at a height of one metre and lasting 21 seconds.

His success was widely publicized, and he was internationally acclaimed as the first man to have achieved powered flight. Earlier, in 1901, he had won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize of 100,000 francs, and a prize from the Brazilian government, for flying his dirigible number six from the Park Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back under thirty minutes. In 1909, he produced his "Demoiselle" or "Grasshopper" monoplane, the precursor to the modern light plane.
An interesting sidelight in the way the burgeoning business of flight and commercial enterprise developed when Santos Dumont complained to a friend that flying required both hands, and he couldn't spare one to check his pocket watch. The friend, Louis Cartier, made him the first wristwatch, in 1904, and Santos Dumont wore it on every flight thereafter, including check his world record-making 220-meter flight, lasting twenty-one seconds, on November 12, 1906.

Return to Brazil:

Santos Dumont continued to build and fly airplanes until he fell ill and subsequently returned to Brazil. He lived first in Petrópolis, in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro, in a house he designed, called A Encantada, (photos and description at bottom of the page), then in Guarujá in São Paulo state until his death, by suicide, in July 23, 1932. He was thought to be in despair over the use of airplanes as weapons of war.

Santos Dumont and the Wright Brothers:

It was with some chagrin that Santos Dumont learned that the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and at Dayton in the USA claimed to be the first to fly a heavier than air machine. He cited the difference between the hordes of photographers and photographs documenting each of his flights to the lack of documentation for the Wright Brothers, until 1908. After years of discussion, he accepted that he was the first in Europe, the Wrights the first in the Americas.

Pai da Aviação:

To the Brazilians, however, he remains the Father of Aviation, the Pai da Aviação, remembered not only for his firsts and his contributions to science and flight, but for his impeccable manner of dress, his ever-present Panama hat and Cartier watch.

They find it difficult to believe, that with the well-documented achievements and contributions of Santos Dumont, so many North Americans are not aware of his stature, life and fame.

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