October 15, 1911: Thomas McGoey becomes the first person to pilot a plane in Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1911, Thomas McGoey became the first person to pilot a plane in Duluth. Dubbed “The Birdman” by the local press, McGooey took flight from Athletic Park in the shadows of the ore docks. A football game between two local teams—the Jeffersons and the Adams—was interrupted at 2 p.m.for McGooey’s display. An estimated crowd of 15,000 showed up to watch McGooey fly his Curtis biplane, fitted with a Hall-Scott 8-cylinder engine. It was considered a bad day for flying, misty with dark clouds hanging low over the West End. McGooey would later describe some trouble he had in the air, saying that clouds would “break loose with gusts [of wind] that made his trip perilous.” He only managed one flight that day. (By the way, Jefferson beat Adams 11–0.) The week before he had might several flights in Superior, likely the first to do so in the Wisconsin city as well. One crowd was estimated at 5,000 and included a throng of Duluthians. On another day, a crowd of 300 watched McGooey fly for 15 minutes “in the face of a 30-mile-an-hour gale” a “feat said never to have been performed before.”

Thomas McGoey shown seated in his biplane in Duluth in October, 1911, in this photograph by Hugh McKenize. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

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