Philip Orin Parmelee 1887-1912
Charles W., Orren M., Erastus K., Joshua, Joshua, Jehiel, Joshua, John, John

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, Oct. 3, 2010

Re-enactment follows route of first cargo flight a century ago with symbolic haul instead of silk

By Frank Thomas

Columbus, OHIO -- Rich Stepler and Mitchell Cary had nothing beneath them but some wood, fabric and 2,000 feet of thin autumn air. They sat yesterday in a plane specifically designed to look and feel old. They didn't have a cockpit or a windshield. A 15-mph tailwind slapped them from behind. It got cold.

"That's why I'm dressed like the Michelin man. It's a little chilly today," Stepler said. "Historic airplanes are safe because we use some modern technology, but they're not necessarily comfortable."

Cary and Stepler set off yesterday morning from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. After a short fuel stop at the Madison County airport, they continued to Rickenbacker Airport. Their flight retraced one of aviation's great first flights a century earlier. On Nov. 4, 1910, Philip Parmelee flew a Wright brothers Model B airplane on the first cargo flight from Dayton to Columbus carrying 200 pounds of silk.

A replica of the plane flown by Parmelee, Cary and Stepler's didn't carry silk. Instead, it held concept models of tiny spy aircraft that the military is developing for future service. The odd cargo symbolized the future of aviation.

The Wright plane symbolized flight's humble origins, said Joe Sciabica, executive director of the Air Force Research Lab, which provided the cargo.

"We've come so far in just a little over 100 years," he said, adding that it is important to remember the original spirit of aviation. "We are limited only by our will and fear of pursuing our dreams," he said.

The original Wright brothers' flight was little more than a promotional stunt masterminded by Columbus business owner Max Morehouse. The brothers took the epic silk-delivery job but didn't see much potential in air cargo, said Amanda Wright-Lane, their great-grandniece. However, they did know how to answer when opportunity knocked.

"They charged Mr. Morehouse $5,000 to return his own silk to Columbus after he delivered it to them in Dayton," Lane said. That is equivalent to about $120,000 today. But the real star of the day was the courageous pilot, Parmelee, who had been flying for only two months, she said. Thousands of people turned out to watch him land after his 68-mile, 61-minute flight, but few, including Parmelee, fully understood what it meant.

"This would have overwhelmed him," said Philip McKeachie, great-nephew of Parmelee. "[My uncle] was a dreamer but he couldn't have predicted what his flight began."

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Amanda Wright-Lane, right, and Parmelee family members Philip McKeachie and his sister Lecia Lamphere with the Wright B Flyer look-alike. (Photo credit: Ty Greenlees / Dayton Daily News)

Second story -- source unknown

It seems air cargo price fixing had its real origins one hundred years ago. The idea was initially sparked when a Columbus, Ohio merchant by the name of Max Morehouse recognized the public interest in “flying machines” and struck a deal with the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright to transport 200 pounds of silk from Dayton to his dry goods store in Columbus. Recognizing the value of their invention, the Wright brothers charged Morehouse $5,000 to deliver the cloth.

Today’s equivalent value of the air cargo charge would exceed $120,000. Morehouse more than recovered his money for the flight by selling small pieces of the legendary silk attached to a postcard celebrating the world’s first cargo delivered by airplane. A young man named Phil Parmelee piloted the Wright B. Flyer on Nov. 7, 1910.

He made the historic, 62-mile flight in 62 minutes, flying from Dayton to Columbus, his speedy arrival exceeding the expectations of all those who waited for him – as a result, only about 1,000 people saw him land.

Shortly thereafter, the crowd grew to around 4,000. Those 200 pounds of silk cloth, traveling less than 100 miles, launched an industry that spans the globe, moving millions of tons of air freight each year.

Mitch Cary, President of Wright B. Flyer Inc., will pilot a replica Wright B. Flyer on Saturday, Oct/ 2, with the flight retracing that epic first air cargo journey. “We intended to celebrate the significant accomplishments of the world’s first air cargo pilot Phil Parmelee, in addition to the start of the air cargo business.

“Phil Parmelee flew this historic flight with little experience and training, having flown for the first time just two months prior to making the flight,” explained Cary. “He was responsible for a number of firsts and endurance flights in those early days of aviation. And unlike our planned flight, where we will have two pilots to share flying duties, Phil flew his flight alone.”

A descendant of the Wright brothers, Amanda Wright-Lane will attend the reception in Columbus on Oct. 2. She explained: “The flight was just one part of Uncles Orv and Wilbur’s effort to promote aviation,”

“While they recognized their airplane might not be able to carry heavy loads, they knew the speed of flying was important in delivering certain types of cargo.”

Parmelee family members Philip McKeachie and his sister Lecia Lamphere have preserved the story of their great uncle’s famous flight. “Uncle Phil was told by Orville Wright, as he tacked a map to the wing strut just prior to take-off, 'Watch the map and do your best.'

“In spite of cold temperatures and flying solo, he did his best, and made history with what was not just the first air cargo flight, but also the first commercial flight in the world of aviation.”

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The Wrights with Philip

Third story -- source unknown

This past weekend, the 100th anniversary of the first air freight in the world was observed with a ceremonial flight of a Wright Flyer reproduction from Dayton to Columbus.

The actual flight occurred Nov. 7, 1910, when a bolt of silk, left Dayton, Ohio, bound for Columbus, Ohio. The man behind this hair brained scheme was Max Morehouse, owner of Morehouse-Martins Department Store. And he paid a whopping $5,000 for the privilege of having his own dress goods flown by air back to him!

The idea of using "aeroplanes" to move freight between two points had been floated by Glen Curtiss, a Cleveland based aviator before November 1910, but no one was quite sure what good it would do or what to charge. But the idea fascinated Morehouse, and being the first one to do it fascinated even more.

In 1910, flying machines were still composed of open body aeroplanes, and the Wright Brothers of Dayton held that patents on their flying machine design. These Wright Flyers were just seven years off the first short flight at Kitty Hawk, and they maintained control over virtually every plane built because of the patented design.

For the $5,000 one would think that Morehouse could have purchased his own plane, and cut out the middleman. But the Wrights wouldn't sell him a plane when they heard what Morehouse was going to do with it, and the idea concerned them. The Wright organization was concerned with "great things", while Morehouse wanted was a publicity stunt that would garner him world press. What the Wrights were trying to avoid was someone (or something) be it a bolt of silk, or the whole plane, dropping from the sky onto something on someone on the ground.

So for the amount charged, the Wrights would put up one of their planes, with one of the best pilots in their stable. Morehouse would secure a place to land for the landing and would handle the underwriting on the event. Max would also pay for a flying exhibition at Columbus' Driving Park (an early raceway, frequented by another Columbusite - Eddie Rickenbacker -- who raced cars around the track, some reaching the dizzying speeds of up to 60 mph!) Finally, Morehouse would also pay to have the plane dismantled and shipped back to Dayton via rail car on the afternoon of the completed flight, and the fair of all the Wright personal that were coming to see the event.

Not only were these early Wright fliers open, but they were essentially just a wood frame, canvas for the wings and rudders, wires and an engine and propellers. And wait, they also had wheels; it's really important to remember that they had two wheels for landing upon. Unlike the planes of today, they didn't fly that far off the ground, either; just high enough that they didn't slam into a tree, get tripped up on telephone wires or slam into a building.

On the morning of the flight, the pilot was strapped in the seat and silk bolt attached to the plane, wrapped in brown paper with some twine tied around for good measure. For a route to Columbus, the plane would follow a train route full of Wright officials and guests, who would get to Columbus before the plane would.

As fate would have it, the selected pilot -- the best Wright had hurt himself by flying into something (in this case, the earth), so the Wright organization selected a relative youngster -- Philip O. Parmalee to execute the flying. For good measure, they also decided that the flight would also be trailed by an automobile, just in case Parmalee needed some help. The final change to the plan was to have Parmalee leave Dayton at 10 a.m., so the flight would arrive in Columbus in time for the noon lunch-hour whistles. Morehouse and Wright felt that they could gin-up even more attention if workers leaving their offices and factories could witness and aeroplane flying overhead. Yay!

So on the appointed hour, 100 years ago Nov. 7, young Parmalee took off and went east into the morning. At some point, the automobile got mired down in muddy roads outside Clifton, Ohio, and it was out of the running. Without his "chase car" Parmalee continued merrily on his way and at some point he overtook the train that was supposed to be faster than he was. By the time the flier was coming down to a perfect touch-point landing, Parmalee had beaten the train to the train station. By the time they arrived at Driving park, the Wright party looked like a bunch of Johnny Come Lately's.

What came from this event was proof that the air power of the era may not have been quite as mighty rail power, but it was faster. What also came from this event was Eddie Rickenbacker's fascination with airplanes was cemented. Rickenbacker would take that spark and parlay it into becoming America's favorite flying ace in World War I, and later as the longtime and successful head of Eastern Airlines in the 1950s and 1960s.

What became of the 200 pounds of black silk? Well at least half of it was cut into 2-inch lengths, glued to postcards and sold as souvenirs of the event that sold for a nickel. Max's wife and daughters all had dresses made from the material, and the rest sold as premium dress goods, with a story to tell to boot.

And Max Morehouse? Morehouse-Martins remained Columbus' most fashionable carriage trade store for a generation. Max and his wife Imogene continued to hold a grand place in Columbus society. Mae's brother-in-law was none other than Charles Anson Bond, Mayor of Columbus. But Bond is best known as the founder of Bond Clothing -- the first national chain of menswear in the United States.

Max died in 1925. Morehouse-Martins was sold, and later merged with "The Fashion" (another local store), before eventually bought up Levy family and merged with their The Union, a department store chain that was never called a department store. It was always simply The Union. Finally, The Union was absorbed into Halle's of Cleveland under the Schottestein family before it went belly up in 1982.

The last great moment for Morehouse-Martins however came in 1985, when in the midst of being readied for demolition, the old store caught fire and burned within an inch of collapse. It was demolished for a downtown mall, which in turn was demolished, this past summer, and will be replaced by a "grand park."

But remember, greatness is not only something that comes to those who are simply first, it comes to those who are first, and do it with style, flair and a little showmanship.

Philip and some of his trophies

Historical photos from Valerie McKeachie

Also see:

  • At the Movies: Philip takes to the skies in the 1912 short "A Dash Through the Clouds," co-starring Fred Mace and Mabel Normand.
  • Picture Postcard: The last photo of Philip, taken just hours before his fatal flight, has been found.

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