History Behind The Card: Santos Dumont’s Monoplane, No. XIX.
Card #45 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
- Alberto Santos Dumont, July 20, 1873 in Palmira, (a town now named Santos Dumont), in Minas Gerais, Brazil – July 23, 1932 in Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil.
I have written quite a bit about Alberto Santos Dumont because along with the above card, Wills’s also produced two others within this 50-card Aviation series for 1910: Card #8 and Card #33.The former for his dirigible exploits and great successes, and the later for his successes and exploits with aeroplanes.
Each of those two cards has a history of Santos Dumont, so I’m not going to repeat myself further.
First… his surname: Santos Dumont. Should it be hyphenated? YES.
Santos Dumont often used an equal sign rather than a hyphen as a means of showing respect to the Brazilian and Portuguese sides of his family Santos=Dumont).
However, out of respect for the Wills’s trading card which did NOT use a hyphen, I will not use a hyphen, even though I DO THINK a hyphen should be used between Santos-Dumont. Hell – even Wills’s is wrong… should just be Wills’, but it’s their trading card.
So… Santos Dumont is famous for being the first European to achieve a heavier-than-air flight in Europe… and was thought to be the first person to have actually flown a plane on October 23, 1906 in his 14-bis before a large crowd in Paris for a distance of 60 meters (197 feet) at a height of about five meters (16 feet).
However, the Wright Brothers and their secretive flights had already flown their own Wright Flyer III in a controlled flight for over 30 minutes. You can read more on the Wright Brothers via Card #35.
Here’s an interesting fact about Santos Dumont. Back in 1904, he told his buddy Louis Cartier about how difficult it was to fly the dirigibles when he needed a free hand to check his pocket watch for time.
Cartier, who was a watchmaker, created for Santos Dumont the first Cartier‘s men’s wristwatch featuring a leather band and small buckle.
Nowadays, Cartier sells both wristwatches and sunglasses named after Santos Dumont.
The Santos Dumont watch was officially placed on display at the Paris Air Museum on October 20, 1979.
Anyhow, let’s take a look at what Santos Dumont had done to warrant his third tobacco card in this series with Card #45.
Well… from reading the card, we can see that this is the 19th plane built by Santos Dumont – and it’s still only 1910!
Next, of equal importance – or more – is the fact that this is a monoplane… a single-winged aircraft at a time when people were still thinking that more wings were better. Evidence of that is WWI a few years later when almost all planes were biplanes or triplanes.
The XIX looks like a glorified kite, but it was one of the earlier planes to feature a single wing just like what we fly around in nowadays. Of course, most of the earliest designs of aeroplanes pre-Wright Brothers were based on the ‘single wing’ design patterned after birds, but with the success of the Wright Brothers, the biplanes aeroplanes were thought to be “it”.
And yet, here was Santos Dumont have success in 1909 with a single-winged aircraft.
Although not yet described as the Demoiselle, that was the name of the XIX monoplane. Demoiselle is the name given to the Damselfly… an insect that looks very similar to a dragonfly, but are smaller and slimmer.
It utilized a two-cylinder opposed air-cooled Dutheil-Chalmers engine that could create up to 20 horsepower. It featured a forward elevator placed ahead of the plane’s chassis, level with the axle.
The wing’s themselves had a sharp dihedral angle to them, and were fairly rectangular. The tail was a crusiform-shape mounted onto the rear.
On November 16-17, 1907, the Demoiselle made many flights, including best attempts of 200 meters, 100 meters and 200 meters at Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the southwestern suburban area of Paris, France.
However, by October of 1908, Santos Dumont had created a new version of the Demoiselle, with the elevator not included, and with the 24 horsepower Antoinette engine powering it.
Santos Dumont continued to test the aircraft throughout 1909, making the first French cross-country flight of around eight kilometers from St. Cyr to Buc on September 13, 1909, returning the next day.
On September 17, 1909 he flew the plane 18 kilometers in 16 minutes.
On January 4, 1910, Santos Dumont made his final flight as a pilot in Demoiselle aircraft (he had made planes and sold versions of the Demoiselle).
After a bracing wire snapped while flying at an altitude of 25 meters (80 feet), a wing collapsed causing the aeroplane to crash. While he suffered only a few bruises, Santos Dumont made the decision to not fly anymore, perhaps because the multiple sclerosis he had been previously diagnosed with was causing him issues.
In fact, in March of 1910, Santos-Dumont announced his retirement from aviation, sold his aircraft and workshop.
In 1911, he moved to Benerville (now Benerville-sur-Mer) on the seaside and took up astronomy.
But, by 1914 when WWI broke out, the French in the area knew nothing of his illustrious past, and after seeing his telescope, and hearing his odd (to them) Brazilian accent, thought him some sort of German spy, which led to the police searching his rooms.
Despondent from the allegations and the illness, Santos Dumont burned all of his papers and his drawings, sold his notes and moved back to Brazil. It is why we don’t have any of his drawings around today.
Back in Petrópolis, Brazil, he built a nice home for himself – it is now a museum.
Depressed beyond belief over various things including the use of aeroplanes in the 1909 São Paulo Constitutionalist Revolution begun in July, Santos Dumont committed suicide by hanging on July 23, 1932.
His death certificate says death was caused by cardiac arrest (heart attack). Perhaps a final kindness from the scientific community to him.
- 1905 – Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur
- 1909 – Officier de la Légion d’Honneur
- 1913 – Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur
- 1929 – Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur
He is buried in the São João Batista Cemetery in Brazil.
Gone, but not forgotten, the name of Santos Dumont still commands respect in the aviation world.
One of my favorite honors for the man is that the official Brazil Presidential Aircraft is named after Alberto Santos Dumont, christened as the “Santos-Dumont“. It has the tail number 2101.