Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quest for Flight in San Diego, 130 years ago

If you think you've seen this glider picture before, you're right and you've got a great memory.

 It was 2010 that I first blogged about the glider, which hangs at the Western Museum of Flight at Zamperini Field in Torrance. It's a replica (though it actually was flown, once) of a glider designed and flown by John Montgomery in San Diego, near the Otay Mesa, in 1883.

1883 . . . 20 years before the Wright Brothers.

John Montgomery died testing one of his machines in 1911.

The glider is a beautiful artifact, and when I first saw it I tried to learn more about John Montgomery. There wasn't too much out there. Montgomery seemed to be recalled as a local hero, a forgotten pioneer, but not much more.

However--Craig Harwood and Gary Fogel have dug into the historical record and written a book about Montgomery, giving him back his well-earned place in history and filling in all the details. In Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, you'll come across names like Chanute, Curtiss, and Loughead (which was later changed to Lockheed) and more.

And it's a great read. Highly recommended to anyone interested in early flight or California history, which is why I'm putting a link to it in the right column, which will stay there for a little while.

If you are interested, the 2010 post is here.

And as I mentioned in a later post, this book--Quest for Flight--was named Runner Up in the Great Midwest Book Festival (Regional Literature Award) and also received Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival (Biography Award) and the Southern California Book Festival (Biography Award).

Montgomery's parents came to California during the Gold Rush, so their story is the state's story as well. His father Zach, an attorney, came in 1850 looking for gold and quickly determined that he'd do better as a lawyer and politician.

But it's his mother's story that really astounds me.

We all know that men hightailed it to California during the Gold Rush, right? Men and very, very few women. A small number of men brought wives; hookers who felt they had nothing to lose and maybe a bit to gain went west; but for the most part, California was men, men, men from 1848 into the decade following.

So why did an Irish widow pack up her family--two grown daughters and two sons, and a few very young grandchildren--and become one of the 49'r's? That's amazing. Ellen--an unmarried daughter at the time, eventually to be John's mother--became an early Gold Rush entrepreneur, running a store and selling real estate with her mother.

Once married to Zachariah Montgomery, she bore two sets of twins and four other children. The familyl resettled in San Diego County, on a farm they named Fruitland which is today part of Chula Vista.

The Montgomerys were a fascinating, quirky group. If any family was likely to produced a brilliant young scientist obsessed by the idea of flight, it was this clan. And that's just the beginning. We learn all about John Montgomery in these pages, which includes renderings of his early drawings and inventions.

The authors have pulled together every scrap of information they could to build this biography, and I enjoyed it immensely. Here is the the link to see the book on Amazon: Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.



Craig Harwood said...

A major motion picture (a biopic) about John Montgomery's story was released in 1946 by Columbia Pictures ("Gallant Journey") starring Glenn Ford as Montgomery. The movie is being shown this coming Friday (January 17) on Turner Classic Movies at 10:30 eastern standard time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post that does an excellent job of depicting "Quest for Flight".