March 11, 1919: Larrabee sets speed record on historic flight from Minneapolis to Duluth

A grainy image of a photograph of Larrabee next to his airplane in Duluth that was published in the March 12, 1919 edition of the Duluth News Tribune. (Image: Zenith CIty Press)

On this day in Duluth in 1919, Lieutenant Wilbur Larrabee—with his brother Weldon on board— flew from Minneapolis to Duluth in exactly 90 minutes, shattering the previous mark by over an hour on a trip from the Twin Cities to Duluth. Several weeks earlier, Lt. Walter Bullock made the same flight in 2 hours and 36 minutes, but he set down once to gas up—in St. Cloud.  The Larrabee brothers likely took a much more direct approach, and they did not stop to refuel. The headlines in the Duluth News Tribune announced, “PLANE ARRIVES AHEAD OF WIRE: Flying Faster Than Telegraph Takes Message, Lieut. Larrabee Comes From Minneapolis.” Apparently the telegram announcing that Larrabee had left Minneapolis (“On their way.”) was not delivered to the Commercial Club, whose members had arranged for the flight,until after he had set his plane down on the icy bay. This, the story said, led to a problem for the flyer: Members of the Commercial Club were to wait for Larrabee at the Duluth Boat Club—his intended landing spot—and wave him in. With no greeting committee, the newspaper reported, he had no idea where to land. Much of the bay was open, and he had planned to land on solid ice. He ended up setting down south of the Boat Club on “rough ice” near the main life-saving station at South 12th Street on Minnesota Point. The plane suffered a broken propeller bolt. The next day the News Tribune ran a bit of a correction: According to the manager of Duluth’s Western Union Office, the telegram was sent at 11:25 a.m., arrived in Duluth at 11:40 a.m., and delivered to the Commercial Club at 11:47 a.m.—funny how truth always gets in the way of a good story, like the tall tale about Dick Bong flying through the Aerial Bridge. Which reminds us: Seven days after his record-setting trip from Minneapolis to Duluth, Larrabee actually did become the first person to fly an airplane through Duluth’s Aerial Bridge. You can read about that here and the truth behind the Bong story here.

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