Ohio Aviation Firsts: First Air Cargo Shipment

Ohio has been home to many aviation pioneers, from the Wright brothers to Neil Armstrong, whose accomplishments are recognized in history books and celebrated in museums. Innovations by companies such as Curtiss and Goodyear are well-known by those who study aviation history. But one lesser known, though important, aviation first is also connected to Ohio: the first cargo flight.

On November 7, 1910, a Wright Model B airplane piloted by Philip Parmalee carried ten bolts of fabric from Dayton, Ohio, to Columbus, Ohio. Parmalee completed the 65-mile journey from Dayton’s Huffman Prairie Testing Ground to the Driving Park in Columbus in 71 minutes. It was the first time cargo was shipped by airplane. The photograph on the left shows Parmalee seated in the plane with packages of fabric secured next to him while Orville Wright oils the Model B airplane’s engine.

The idea to use airplanes for commercial purposes came from Max Morehouse, president of the Morehouse-Martens Company of Columbus. Morehouse realized the potential for shipping goods by airplane after reading about aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss’s successful flight from Sandusky, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio. He contacted Orville and Wilbur Wright to see if they could deliver a bolt of ribbon from the Elder & Johnston Co., a wholesaler in Dayton, to his store’s home city of Columbus. Roy Knabenshue, general manager of the Wrights’ exhibition department, arranged a contract between the Morehouse-Martens Company and the Wright Company, under which the latter agreed to furnish a plane and pilot for the venture for a fee of $5,000.

The 10 bolts of fabric were divided into two packages; one contained a single bolt of dark pink silk fabric while the other contained theremaining nine bolts in assorted colors. In total, the shipment weighed about 70 pounds. The package of pink silk, secured to Parmalee’s left in the previous image, was cut into pieces and attached to commemorative cards after the successful conclusion of the flight. The Ohio History Connection has one such card in its collection, which you can see on the right.

Although it would be years before commercial air shipments were financially feasible, the November 7, 1910, air cargo flight marked yet another Ohio innovation in airplane history.Interested in learning more about the first cargo flight? Check out these resources:

Janet B. Arlege, “The World’s First Commercial Air Cargo Shipment, November 7, 1910” (Columbus, OH: Ohio History of Flight Museum, 1985).

Foster Lane, Cargo Flight: An Adventure into Flying History” (Columbus, OH: Prop Press Associates, 1986).


Posted August 10, 2015

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