January 18th, 1911
By JACK BURROUGHS
Oakland, California: Thursday, May 20, 1948
This local significance is personified by 70-year-old Fred J. Wiseman of 1817 Oxford Street, Berkeley, who carried the first air mail in the world.
The story of how he made world history on February 17, 1911, by flying mail stamped by the postmaster of Petaluma from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, is a familiar one. But back of that story is anoter on- the life story of this pioneer flyer, plane builder and racing car driver.
Fred Wiseman was born on a ranch in the Valley of the Moon between Glen Ellen and Santa Rosa on November 10, 1877. He lived on the ranch with his parents Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Wiseman. His father died about 20 years ago and his mother died last year in Santa Rosa at the age of 100.
When Fred Wiseman, at the age of 23, took up his residence in Santa Rosa, he went to work in a combination garage and bicycle shop. At that period the omnipresent bicycle shops were expanding their field of activities by repairing small cars. One of the favorite automobiles of the period was the old Olds with the curved dashboard and a "stick" instead of a steering wheel. In those days, when a car was in need of repairs, the owner's choice generally lay between the bike shop garage and the blacksmith shop.
Wiseman remained in Santa Rosa until 1906, when the garage was destroyed by fire. It was a total loss, as the place was not insured. Wiseman then went to work for an automobile concern in San Francisco, and made his home there until 1911.
In 1908 he went East to drive a Stoddard Dayton in the Western Vanderbilt Race at Crown Point, Ind., with Gene Peters as mechanic. Before returning to San Francisco he went to Dayton,k Ohio. The Wright Brothers had just come home from France and Wiseman saw the famous plane Kitty Hawk. Then and there he decided to go in for aviation.
As soon as he returned to the West Coast he entered upon the first, and in some ways the most difficult phase of the project, that was raising funds to finance it. Some of the money was put up by Ben Noonan, a Santa Rosa butcher.
Wiseman and his fellow enthusiasts had no blueprints from which to work. All they had to "go by" was the pictures of the planes built and flown by the pioneer "birdmen," as pilots were called in those days. The Wiseman plane was a mixture of Farman, Curtis, and Wright, with original features thrown in.
Wiseman built his plane on the old Laughlin ranch near Windsor. The owner, Grant Laughlin, allowed him to use the property free of charge . A part of the ranch property is now occupied by the Sonoma County Airport.
Plenty of open space was required in those early days of plane building, as taking off required plenty of room with no obstacles in the immediate vicinity.
Wiseman's plane, which he built with his own hands with Gene Peters as co-partner in the nterprise, was powered by a V-8 engine built by Al Hall, whose name became a part of aviation history throgh the famous Hall-Scott engine.
The engine in Wiseman's plane had sufficient horsepower to take it in one direction, but could not produce the extra power necessary to hegotiate a turn. As a result Wiseman would fly his "crate" the length of the field, land it, turn it around on the ground and taxi back.
There was no getting around the stark and tubborn fact that his plane would have to develop power enough to make a turn if he expected to take part in any aviation meets. The engine was originally a four by four," that is, four-inch bore and four-inch stroke. The stroke was increased to five inches, which increased the power of the engine by about 10-horsepower. This was sufficient to enable Wisaeman to turn this plane which in flight.
Wiseman was now ready to pass from ground hopping and field-length flying to the real thing. In January, 1911, he beat Lincoln Beachey in the amateur class in a meet held at Selfridge Field, between South San Francisco and Tanforan.
Ut was kess than a month later that he made his historic flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa with a letter from Mayor George P. McNear of Petaluma to Mayor James Edwards of Santa Rosa and other items of mail.
Later he went barnstorming in the Northwest, f9ollowing which he came to Santa Rosa. After that he spent six weeks flyhing at Pismo Beach. He spent a little more than a year in aviation, after which he returned to his former occupation of auto repair work, in the capacity of auto repair foreman. In 1918 he became an automotive engineer and continued in that capacity until his retirement in 1933.
Wiseman's hobbies are golf and aviation. A flying friend of his, Rayford Peterson, who has a landing strip on his hop ranch near Healdsburg, often takes Wiseman up with him.
Asked how flying today compares with flying in the days when he piloted his homemade biplane, Wiseman said; "It's a lot safer and a lot easier than it used to be."
.In 1909 he was in Dayton at the Wright's home-coming celebration. That first Los Angeles meet of January, 1910, stirred him further and he and J. W. Peters built a finely made biplane with Hall-Scott 60 engine along the lines of Paulhan's Farman of 1910. This was flown by Peters the middle of 1910 and Wiseman took it to the San Francisco meet of January, 1911, on then Selfridge Field. Wiseman was the star of the novice flyers' the professional stars were Radley, Parmalee, Willard, Brookins, Latham. Here, Ely flew to the warship and Lieut. Crissy dropped live bombs for the first time.
.On Feb. 17, 1911, Wiseman made the first air mail flight, carrying letters, newespapers and merchants' orders on a cross-country route of 12 miles between Petaluma and Santa Rosa. He was not a sworn carrier so his feat is not "official."
.Right after the Tanforan meet he launched an exhibition tour through the State of Washington, later - barnstorming California.
.In the following years he returned to the automotive business, and then as a specialist for Standard Oil of California. He at last retired, after 25 years with this company.
.The Wiseman plane may still be seen at Oakland Airport. It is scheduled for the National Air Museum.
courtesy of Steve Remington - CollectAir
via email from Marilyn Guinnane, 6-1-05
His grand niece
Uncle Fred's mother and father came from Missouri by wagon train in the 1850s, settled in Melita, a sort of district just outside Santa Rosa, CA. Uncle Fred was cousin to Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate General. I don't know if this came from his mother's side, or father's.
My father's mother was Fred's sister. My father, a San Franciscan, spent his summers at the Wiseman ranch in Melita, and Grandpa Wiseman (William Alexander Wiseman) was more of a dad to my dad than his own father, who was always out to sea. Grandpa Wiseman was a man of exemplary character, which rubbed off on my father.
In writing my autobiography, (which I'm currently doing) I'm going to try to squeeze in that when my great-uncle is quoted as saying that he quit aviation because he felt that there was no future in it, it was because all his fellow barnstormers were getting killed. That's what he meant; that it was one deadly profession. Not that aviation was a dying game. Quite the contrary. He was way too intelligent to think anything like that.
And I know this is true, because I heard him tell my dad this, and then my dad would quote what he said. He was a local celebrity in Sonoma County, even if the fame he enjoyed in his youth had died out. In his S.F. nsp. column Herb Caen wrote about him, as late as the fifties or sixties. Mr. Caen went to visit Uncle Fred in Berkeley.
He was a very fine man, Uncle Fred. What a spirit!
His only daughter, Fredreika, died of a brain aneuryism sometime in her thirties. His wife, Aunt Alice, was the personification of a lady.
I'll try to remember more, later . . .