Windmill Point
Grosse Pointe Historical Society

June 1911 Flying Exhibition at Grosse Pointe by John A. Bluth

William E. "Bill" Metzger a prescient investor in bicycles and automobiles was also early to recognize the future potential of aviation. With Aero Clubs being formed all over the country, the well connected Metzger sold the idea to establish an Aero Club to further Detroit's aviation activities. The kick-off meeting took place the evening of December 16, 1909 at the Pontchartrain Hotel. All of the top auto industry and business leaders were invited. To stimulate interest in the event, Russell A. Alger, a community pillar and a Packard Motor and Wright Airplane Co. investor, invited the Wright brothers to Detroit to attend the meeting. The Wrights were under considerable pressure to come to Detroit. Alger was an investor in their company and they were behind in delivery to him of the first plane to be built in their Dayton Factory. All told 75 prominent Detroiters showed up at the Pontchartrain that Thursday night. The event was reported in all three papers and the Detroit News ran editorial cartoons depicting the possible impact of aviation on Detroit.

The stature of the Detroit Aero Club was demonstrated the following year when it took over the Grosse Pointe Golf Club on June 19, 1911, for three days of flying, during the height of the golf season. Russell Alger, president of the Aero Club, had arranged for a Wright Flyer airplane and a pilot to come to Detroit and give demonstration rides to Aero Club members and their families.

The event made the newspapers' front pages for days; bear in mind that in 1911 an airplane had about the same utility that we would assign to a Sunfish sailboat today. It couldn't go far, carry much, or be usable in bad weather or during winter. And, it was a very expensive. The Wright plane cost $7,500 in a time when manufacturing jobs paid .39 cents an hour and senior clerks earned about $1,136 annually. However the 1911 airplane did offer sportsmen the thrill of an utterly new experience with the added cachet of a bit of danger thrown in. At a time when most Americans had never seen an airplane, dozens of Grosse Pointers had actually flown through the air and thousands more on the ground witnessed the miracle of flight.

That same year, another Aero Club founding member, Fred Wadsworth, built a hydro-aeroplane named the Flying Fish. The device was designed to skim over the surface of water at 65mph, with the "skipper-pilot" seated at the rear of a canoe-like hull in a wicker chair. The craft was successfully tested on Lake St. Clair ice but there was no further development.

This Exhibit Made Possible by The Wilkinson Foundation