March 22, 1914: First airplane to crash in Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1914, 21-year-old pilot Robert William Watt crashed his homemade biplane, becoming the first person to crash a plane in the Zenith City. He had begun building his Curtis biplane on September 1, 1913, at his home at 2015 West Fourth Street. On March 22, Watt and ten of his friends brought the plane down to the bay at 21st Avenue West. At 7 a.m., accompanied by A. C. Hunter, Watt drove the plane across the ice, and not in the air: the plane wasn’t built for two, and they were trying to test its strength, not flight, at that point. After that, Watt attempted a solo flight, and got his plane into the air ten feet above ground for a quarter mile. He landed on some rough ice and punctured a tire. Unwilling to push the plane back to shore, he decided to run it on one tire over the ice. But, according to the Duluth News Tribune, Watt’s “sporting blood” got the better of him, and he took to the air, low at first, then into a steep ascent; when the plan reached forty feet, Watt lost control of it. He cut the engine and his plane nose-dived toward the ice. The paper said that “just before the machine struck the ice, Watt had the presence of mind to jump clear of the wreckage.”

Caption: What look like drawings above are actually photographs taken by friends of pilot Robert Watt. that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune  The process of converting the newsprint papers to microfilm is likely the cause of the photographs’ poor quality.