That Old Sew-And-Sew Sir Adam Mortimer Singer

Sir Adam Mortimer Singer.png

  • Sir Adam Mortimer Singer KBE (Knight of the order of the British Empire) was born July 25, 1863 in Yonkers, New York, United States of America – June 24, 1929 in Middlesex, England, Great Britain.

Sometimes, while surfing down the rabbit hole that is the Internet, my eye catches a word or a name… and in this case, it was “Singer“.

The only Singer I’ve ever heard of was the sewing machine – could this be the founder of the sewing machine empire?

No… but it is his son, who thanks to his dad’s success, was able to live a life of luxury.

Singer was an Anglo-American landowner, philanthropist, and sportsman, who was one of the earliest pilots in both France and Great Britain. Singer preferred to be called Mortimer… or maybe it was Mort, or maybe even Mo.

There is no trading card for Singer, nor did he do anything overly fantastic during his career as an aviator – this is just me filling in that one particular rabbit hole.

Singer’s father was Isaac Merritt Singer, who was the founder of the modern Singer Sewing Machine Company. He married Isabella Eugénie Boyer, a French model, who was 22 years of age to his 52.

Nice work if you can get it.

Singer was their first child, but his father had – by then – at least 18 children from previous wives and mistresses. After his birth, perhaps to remove the family from all the other women and kids, the new family moved from New York to Paris, France, leaving there in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War began, moving to Oldway Mansion in Devon, England.

When his dad died in 1875 at the age of 63, Singer (and all the mother’s, girlfriends, and siblings) inherited some money… not as much as you would think because he did have far too much family.

But it still wasn’t anything to sniff at.

Singer would eventually attend Downing College, Cambridge, in October 1881, but left before attaining a degree.

Singer loved the ponies – and not necessarily betting on them, rather he loved to breed and race thoroughbreds, starting in 1881.

He became a naturalized British citizen in 1900.

He was also involved in the development of cycling, driving and flying in Europe.

In fact, by January of 1910, at the age of 46, Singer earned the 24th ever pilot license from the Aéro-Club de France.

On May 31, 1910, he received his aviator’s certificate from the Great Britain Royal Aero Club – the eight person to do so here- when he flew his Farman biplane to success. You can read all about the Farman Biplane HERE.


Farman III aeroplane, similar to the one flown by Singer.

Farman III Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Capacity: 1;
  • Length: 12 meters (39 feet 4½ inches);
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (33 feet 9¾ inches);
  • Height: 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches);
  • Wing Area: 40 square meters (430.56 square feet);
  • Gross Weight: 550 kilograms (1213 pounds);
  • Engine: 1x Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine @ 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour)

When I first saw Singer’s name on the Internet, it was for what happened to him at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte held at Heliopolis, Egypt, February 6th – 13th, 1910.


Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte poster.

Organized by the Aéro-Club de France, it formed the Egyptian Aero Club. The program of the Meet was only printed in French, and thanks to sponsors, prizes totaling 212,000 francs was offered, making it on par with the biggest of the 1909 events.

Heliopolis_Cairo airfield 1910.jpg

Layout of the course at the 1910 Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte.

It featured a rectangular five-kilometer course laid out in the desert, with two grandstands  – all built new for the event.

According to – one of THE best sites for information on the early days of aviation races. Period. Go there, and you’ll get lost in all of the fantastic information and where I took a lot of the images from there – the Meet’s competitors had to pay a 2,000 francs fee for entering, which would be refunded if they crossed the starting line at least once.

On-site practice was allowed from December 15, 1909, and all participants were required to arrive by February 1, 1910. A total of 12 pilots and 18 planes were officially entered:

  • Jacques Balsan (Blériot)
  • Hubert Le Blon (Blériot)
  • Élise Deroche / “Raymonde de Laroche” (Voisin)
  • Arthur Duray (Farman)
  • Jean Gobron (Voisin)
  • Hans Grade (Grade)
  • Gabriel Hauvette / “Hauvette-Michelin” (Antoinette)
  • Hubert Latham (Antoinette)
  • René Métrot (Voisin)
  • Adam Mortimer Singer (Farman)
  • Frederick van Riemsdijk (Curtiss)
  • Henri Rougier (Voisin)

As you can see, Singer was one of the participants.While he had flown the Farman for his British license, he had flown a Voisin for his French.

While unfamiliarity with the Farman could have been the reason for what happened at the Egyptian event, it’s not necessarily 100% true.

During test flights with the Farman, Singer experienced engine problems, and upon a forced landing on a rough spot the plane broke a propeller.

That doesn’t sound like pilot error, rather it sounds more of a mechanical issue with his aircraft.

Getting the propeller fixed, he went up again for more testing on February 1, 1910.

During a turn, the engine stalled and the plane began to side-slip down at a steep angle from about 35 meters up (115 feet) crashing to the ground.


The crashed Farman III aeroplane flown by Singer on February 1, 1910 at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation d’Égypte.

While the wings of the Farman III absorbed most of the force, Singer still broke his right thigh in three places and jarring his back quite hard.


Singer being attended to immediately after his crash in Egypt.

While he recovered from his injuries well enough, Singer never flew (as pilot) again, but still loved aviation.

He began to offer aviation awards for Britian aeroplane development, such as £500 for whomever developed the first practical British-built amphibious aircraft, eventually won by Thomas Sopwith’s Bat Boat in 1913. With a name like that, I have to write about it soon enough.

He purchased a country estate at Milton Hill, near Steventon, Berkshire, and an apartment in central Mayfair, and when WWI broke out, two days later he offered his MIlton Hill home to be used as a military hospital for soldiers and NCOs, housing up to 220 beds making it the largest privately-run wartime hospitals attending to more than 4,500 people.

Singer with his brother Washington paid for the hospitals operating costs from their own pocket, with Singer working there through the war as its chief administrator, his wife worked there as well as matron-in-chief.

When the war ended, Singer became a Justice of the Peace and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In 1921, he served as the High Sheriff of Berkshire, dying in June of 1929 – still a very rich man.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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