Barnstormers, Businessmen, and High Hopes
for the Future: Austin, Texas, Enters the
Modern Air Age
KENNETH B. RAGSDALE*
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 1911, MARKED A MAJOR MILESTONE IN AUSTIN HISTORY.
At 1:55 in the afternoon, aviator Calbraith Perry Rodgers landed his
Wright EX Flyer in a vacant lot near the present intersection of Duval and
45th Streets. That was the first airplane to land in the Capital City.
Rodgers, unknowingly, had just ushered the City of Austin into the age of
manned flight. Austin civic leaders ultimately embraced aviation as the
key to urban growth and economic progress. The steps are well defined.
On May 21, 1917, the University of Texas, with the support of the Austin
Chamber of Commerce, opened the School for Military Aeronautics, and
on April 17, 1918, the United States Army Signal Corps acquired 318
acres of land, assembled by the Chamber of Commerce near St. Edward's
University, to establish Penn Field, Austin's first aviation landing field.
Both endeavors flourished. Penn Field became an intermediate stop for
Army Signal Corps cross-country training flights, and when the School for
Military Aeronautics closed on February 2o, 1919, some 5,958 cadets had
been through the program.'
World War I advanced the fledgling aviation industry many fold and ac-
corded the airplane a utilitarian function. With the return to peacetime
the American nation possessed a huge inventory of aircraft, mainly Cur-
tiss JN-4 two-place trainers, and some ten thousand pilots trained by the
military to fly them. Many returning airmen elected to continue flying,
* Kenneth B. Ragsdale, an Austin-based writer, historian, and musician, holds four degrees
from the University of Texas, including the Ph.D., which he received m 1974. From 1969 to 1977,
he served as director of educational services for the Texas State Historical Association. Ken is the
author of several other books on Texas and the Southwest. He is also a licensed pilot This article
is an excerpt from the book, Austin, Cleared for Takeoff Aviators, Businessmen, and the Growth of an
Amencan Czty, scheduled for pubhcation by the University of Texas Press in August 2004.
l"History of the School of Military Aeronautics," unpublished manuscript prepared by Dr.J M. Bryant,
University of Texas, July 1o, 1919, in T. S Painter Papers, p. i (Center for American History, University
of Texas at Austin).
SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
VOL. CVII, NO. 4
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed October 21, 2014.