FIRST MAN TO FLY IN AN AIRPLANE?

Always interested in mechanics and inventing, Jacob Brodbeck tried––apparently without

Jacob Brodbeck

success––to build a self-winding clock while he was teaching school in his native Württemberg, Germany. In 1847 he arrived in Fredericksburg to serve as the

Original Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg

second teacher at the Vereins Kirche and then taught at other schools in Gillespie County. He married one of his students in 1858, and despite traveling the county as a surveyor and serving as district school supervisor, he and his wife had a dozen children.

Brodbeck’s real dream, which he worked on for twenty years, was to build an “air-ship.” He moved in 1863 to San Antonio to serve as a school inspector and took with him a small model of his invention that consisted of a rudder, wings, and a propeller powered by coiled springs.

When the blockade of Texas ports during the Civil War stopped the shipment of ice blocks cut from the lakes in the North, Brodbeck designed an ice-making machine. By the time his machine was complete in 1869, there were three plants producing artificial ice in San Antonio (and five other ice plants in the United States).

Meantime, Brodbeck attended local fairs to demonstrate the success of his model air-ship and to raise money to build a full-sized model large enough to carry a man. The Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo owns a copy of an article written by Brodbeck and published in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News on August 7, 1865, in which he touts his views: “For more than twenty years I have labored to construct a machine which should enable man to use, like a bird, the atmospheric region as the medium of his travels.” He sought subscriptions, not donations to fund and patent his airship. Stock certificates for the investors have been donated to the library.

Several prominent men invested in the venture and accounts vary as to when and where the “flight” took place. Brodbeck’s machine was equipped with an enclosed space for the “aeronaut,” a propeller for landing on water, a compass, and a barometer that was intended to measure the predicted speed at between 30 and 100 miles per hour. Some claim that on September 10, 1865, in a field east of Luckenbach––yes, the same Luckenbach made famous years later by Willie, Waylon and the boys––the airship rose twelve feet and traveled about 100 feet before the springs completely unwound and the sudden landing destroyed the contraption. Brodbeck, the “aeronaut,” was not seriously hurt.

Thought to be the photo of Brodbeck’s destroyed “air-ship.” Property DRT Library

Brodbeck bust in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park.

Another account of the flight places it in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park where a bust of Brodbeck was placed several years later. And a third rendition claims the flight actually took place in 1868.

Regardless of the locale and the date, Brodbeck was undeterred and set about traveling the United States to raise money for another attempt. He could not persuade audiences to invest in the plan, and he was in Michigan his papers were stolen. The DRT Library holds a typed document that claims to be the transcription and translation from German of the inventor’s detailed specifications of his airship

He returned to his ranch outside Luckenbach and lived for another six years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.

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Texas’ Pioneer Inventor

A brilliant eccentric—Gail Borden reportedly rode about Galveston on a pet bull. He invented a “locomotive bath house,” a portable affair that allowed women to bathe privately in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico before he was “discouraged” by the city authorities. While he

Gail Borden
Wikipedia

worked for the Galveston City Company laying out the streets, he was busy designing a self-propelled terraqueous machine that was supposed to move on land and on water. During the maiden voyage, it reportedly dumped its occupants into the Gulf.

Born in Norwich, New York, Gail Borden, Jr. (1801-1874) moved with his family to Indiana where he received about a year and a half of formal education. Before coming to Texas in 1829, he began to show his lifelong concern for others by helping rescue a freedman from rustlers.

After settling in Texas, he farmed, raised stock, and began serving as a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin’s colony. He prepared the first topographical map of Texas, and as the war for Texas independence from Mexico became a certainty, Borden and some partners started the Telegraph and Texas Register newspaper to keep the citizenry informed of the pending conflict. Throughout the war, the Telegraph was moved across Texas just ahead of General Santa Anna’s advancing army. Ten days before the Texas victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, the Mexican army captured the Telegraph printers and threw the press into Buffalo Bayou. As soon as Texas won its independence Borden traveled to Cincinnati and bought a new press, which he continued to move across Texas following the new republic’s congress as it began to meet in Columbia and then on to the new capital of Houston.

Borden drew the map laying out the new capital on the muddy banks of Buffalo Bayou. In 1837, the year after Texas became a republic, Borden moved to Galveston to serve as the first customs collector at the port. Active in the Baptist church, he worked in the temperance movement, served as a local missionary to the poor and to travelers visiting Galveston. He and his first wife, Penelope, reportedly were the first Americans to be baptized in the Gulf of Mexico west of the Mississippi River. He served as a trustee of the Texas Baptist Education Society, which founded Baylor University, and as an alderman, he helped rid Galveston of gamblers. Temporarily.

He apparently began inventing around 1840 with a scheme to market jelly made from the horns and hooves of oxen. He tried preserving a peach mixture using hydraulic pressure. Penelope’s death in the yellow fever epidemic of 1844, prompted Borden to abandon his other projects and search for the cause of the disease. Recognizing that yellow fever struck during the summer heat and disappeared with the first cold front, he built a large-scale icebox, using ether to cool its interior. He imagined a refrigerator large enough to cool the entire population of Galveston during the summer months. When his giant refrigerator for people did not materialize, Borden devoted himself to creating a meat biscuit that he believed would provide nutrition for the U.S. Army and for travelers. He boiled eleven pounds of meat to get one pound of extract, which he combined with flour and baked into a biscuit. It was recognized for its nutritional value and earned a gold medal in London at the 1851 International Exposition. Borden built a factory in Galveston; he introduced the meat biscuit at Texas’ first state fair in Corpus Christi, and he moved to New York to be closer to distribution centers. Sales fell flat because the biscuit tasted terrible, which ended his expensive investment.

Copper vacuum Borden used for his first successful milk experiment.

Still convinced that he could improve the food supply by developing concentrated food products, Borden condensed milk by using a vacuum pan with a heating coil to remove the water without burning or souring the milk. In this fashion, he produced the first condensed milk in 1853 that could be stored and shipped long distances. He started a dairy company in Connecticut, and for the first time in his life, he was in a perfect position to capitalize on his invention. When the Civil War, he provided condensed milk for the Union Army. Still the experimenter, Borden created processes for condensing fruit juices, for condensing extract of beef, and for coffee.

After the war, he returned to Texas, founded the town of Borden west of Houston, established a meatpacking plant, a sawmill, and a copperware factory. His Borden Milk Company with Elsie The Cow as its logo became known throughout the world.

Borden Condensed Milk, 1898