History Behind The Card: Spanish ‘Torres Quevedo’
Card #17 of 50, W.D. & H.O. Wills, Aviation series 1910
Name: Leonardo Torres Quevedo 1852 – 1936, Moledo, Spain
This is one of those cards of the 50 of the Wills’ Aviation Series of 1910 that had me scratching my head a bit… I mean… what was so incredible about it that it actually deserved its own card?
From what I can tell, the importance of this dirigible is actually second to the importance of the man that designed, built and sometimes flew the dirigible.
However, this particular dirigible, the Torres Quevedo did lead to the formation of a major aviation company in France.
“El más prodigioso inventor de su tiempo. “The most prodigious inventor of his time” – that was how Leonardo Torres Quevedo was defined by French Mathematical Society president Maurice d’Ocagne.
The man was quite simply an inventor, mathematician and engineer who was actually fourth in his class studying at the Official School of Civil Engineering Corps in Spain – which makes me wonder how smart numbers one through three were.
Leonardo Torres Quevedo’s fame arose from his designing of the first dirigible for Spain back in 1896 – a dirigible called simple enough España, or Spain (in English), constructed in Guadalajara’s Military Service Ballooning Army.
In 1902, Leonardo Torres Quevedo proposed to the Science Academies of Madrid and Paris a new type of dirigible that would solve the serious problem of suspending the gondola by including an internal frame of flexible cables that would give the airship rigidity by way of interior pressure.
Now being a careful man, he began designing and then constructing that dirigible to resolve the gondola problem… and created an ultra-light dirigible bolstered with a frame of flexible cables for rigidity.
But he wasn’t sure it would work. How could he test the dirigible without putting a human pilot at risk?
How about remote control via radio waves?
Lacking funds, Leonardo Torres Quevedo first built a radio control for a tricycle, creating codes from the signals generated by a telegraph transmitter. He then built a receiver to read and respond to the signals, moving the tricycle forward or backward, or turning it.
He called it the telekino. Leonardo Torres Quevedo’s invention was basically a robot that carried out commands transmitted by electromagnetic waves. It was the world’s first remote control.
Back in 1903, Leonardo Torres Quevedo debuted his Telekino at the Paris Academy of Science, which was a robot that would obey commands sent to it by electromagnetic waves. It was the second ever radio-controlled demonstration (Nikola Tesla’s had already demonstrated his “Teleautomaton”).
Now… I can not find any information about whether or not he successfully tested his dirigible via remote control – but I suspect he did, because…
In 1905, with the help of Alfredo Kindelán, Leonardo Torres Quevedo constructed the first Spanish dirigible in the Army Military Aerostatics Service (an institution formed back in 1896, and located in Guadalajara, Spain). The new airship, named the España, made numerous test and exhibition flights and did well.
But, none of that explains why Card #17 should be about some other dirigible named after the first Spanish dirigible builder.
From what I can tell, in 1908, Leonardo Torres Quevedo designed and built another dirigible… the self-named Torres Quevedo, that had many changes to it. As you can see from the back of Card #17 below, even the authors of the Aviation Series cards couldn’t tell the card collector WHY the Torres Quevedo dirigible had such an odd shape…
I can tell you that the design of the Torres Quevedo was a success… so much so that Leonardo Torres Quevedo soon had other companies wanting to work with him.
As a result of this success, Torres and the French company Astra collaborated and bought the patent with a cession of rights extended to all countries except Spain to construct the dirigible there.
Astra was better known as the Société Astra des Constructions Aéronautiques was a major French manufacturer of balloons, airships, and aeroplanes in the early 20th Century. It was founded in 1908 when Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe purchased Édouard Surcouf’s workshops at Billancourt.
Although the Leonardo Torres Quevedo dirigibles – known as the Astra-Torres airships – were a popular and profitable product for Astra, in 1909 the company also began to produce the Wright Brother’s Wright Flyer planes – under license. By 1912, however, the Wright Brother’s designs were supplanted by Astra’s own plane designs, the Astra C and the Astra CM.
As far as the Astra-Torres dirigibles were concerned, some of these purchased by the French and British armies in 1913 and were used during WWI to provide naval protection and inspection, which in my mind means ‘spying’.
In 1918, Torres designed, in collaboration with the engineer Emilio Herrera Linares, a dirigible, named Hispania in an attempt to fly the first transatlantic. Owing to financial problems, the project was delayed and it was Great Britain’s John Alcock and Arthur Brown who first crossed the Atlantic non-stop from Newfoundland to Ireland in a Vickers Vimy twin-engine plane, in 16 hours and 12 minutes.
A brilliant man, Torres also built a chess automaton in 1910 he dubbed El Ajedrecista (The Chessplayer) that was first publicly demonstrated in Paris in 1914, and is considered to be the world’s first computer game.
Torres also experimented with cableways and cable cars and was very well known in the day for his Spanish Aerocar in Niagara Falls in Canada featuring a cableway of 580 meters in length that was constructed between 1914 and 1916 and spans the whirlpool in the Niagara Gorge on the Canadian side.
So… the Torres Quevedo dirigible (pictured in our main image at the top) created by a Spaniard named Leonardo Torres Quevedo , had some interesting design achievements – none of which I can properly determine for you – that led to the formation of a French company that helped Europeans get their hands on dirigibles used in WWI; helped Europeans get aeroplanes manufactured by the Wright Brothers; and created their own aircraft for a hungry European market.
That’s why this card is pictured here, though in 1910 when the card was published, they would hardly have known the future… which again I can only assume a card was produced to accentuate the then-odd design of this particular dirigible to an audience hungry for any information on aviation.
Death of Leonardo Torres Quevedo – it’s nothing spectacular.
The man was well respected and well recognized by the Spanish, with King Alfonso XIII of Spain bestowed him the Echegaray Medal in 1916.While he did turn down the job of Spain’s Minister of Development, he did accept entrance into the Royal Spanish Academy, and became a member of the department of Mechanics of the Paris Academy of Science. In 1922 the Sorbonne named him an Honorary Doctor and, in 1927, he was named one of the twelve associated members of the Academy. You can tell he’s famous because he has his own postage stamp.
Torres died in Madrid, Spain on December 18, 1936 of old age.
Sorry Spain… nothing against you, but this is a boring blog entry. It’s why it took me so long to complete it. Ugh.