Tom Benoist Tom Benoist  
  Courtesy Thomas Reilly Courtesy Thomas Reilly  

By Christy C. Magrath

     Tom was born in Irondale, Missouri in December of 1875 to a family of twelve children. While he took part in the usual boyhood sports, Tom's chief interest was mathematics, history, and watching the eagles, cranes, and other large soaring birds of the beautiful Ozark hill country.
     Finishing grade school, he took a night school course in business and read what he could on mechanics and the meagre material then available on mechanical flight. One book that interested him was Chanutes "Progress in Flying Machines", published in 1884. Right after the turn of the century in 1900, Benoist met and became a close friend of A. I. Dyke, a pioneer in the automobile field and author of many textbooks on autos and auto engines.
Aeronautical Supply Company
     In 1907, with E. Percy Noel, Tom opened the first supply house in America selling nothing but aeronautical parts and supplies. This was called the "Aeronautical Supply Company", and abbreviated "AERONSCO".
     Noel was a newspaper man, and an early aero enthusiast himself. In October, 1910, Noel began publishing America's first aero weekly called "Aero". When Noel started "Aero", he sold his interest in "AERONSCO" to Tom Benoist who by 1910 was doing a thriving business indeed, making full-sized kits for several aeroplanes of the period. These kits, along with a twenty foot biplane glider kit, included the 1909 Santos-Dumont "Demoiselle" monoplane, 1909-Curtiss type, and Bleriot and Farman copies.
First Flight at Kinloch
     In August, grading began at Kinloch Field, near the site of the present Lambert Field. On September 18, 1910, with no previous flights, Tom Benoist made the first flight from the new field, when he flew his revamped Howard Gill biplane a distance of 450 yards. Gill was an early California airman, who sold his Curtiss type plane to Benoist at a bargain price.
     In January, 1911, Benoist opened a flying school at Kinloch, using improved and stronger built versions of his first plane. Starting with a few students, the enrollment grew and by July Tom was a very busy man teaching his pupils theory of flight and engine mechanics,practical flying, and at the same time managing his supply house. About this time, Antony Jannus, who had been with Rexford Smith in Washington, D.C, joined Tom and became his chief pilot and instructor. A little later in 1911, P. G. (Bud) Morriss, a famous early pilot, joined the Benoist group and became its first vice president and sales engineer.

Benoist flying boat
  This Benoist flying boat built especially for scheduled air lines operation by Tom Benoist in his St. Louis factory, was operated on the first regular scheduled air line between St. Petersburg and tampa, Fla., in 1914.
courtesy of Steve Remington - CollectAir
       August, 1913, A refined new airboat was flown at Creve Couer Lake. This ship proved to be the basic design for the plane used on the World's first scheduled airline. Larger than its predecessors, its hull was forty inches wide against twenty two inches for the late 1912 model. Trailing edge ailerons were used, and a triangular stabilizer to which new elevators were hinged was employed.
     During this period, the Benoist school had some very interesting students. Among them being Walter E. Lees, who later worked with Bill Stout in developing and testing the Ford all metal planes, Eddie Korn, and Bill Bleakley. Korn, now a doctor, is restoring his Benoist tractor for the Smithsonian, and this is possibly the only Benoist plane in existence today.
NOTE Christy Magrath is a dean among aircraft model builders and historians having had a total of 36 years experience. Among his many models on display throughout the country is the Diorama of man's first successful powered flight on display in IAS New York Headquarters and the "Antoinette" model in the W. F. Durand Museum

March 30, 1912
Transcribed by Steve Koons, 6-13-05
KINLOCH FIELD, ST. LOUIS, MO., March 25. -- The new Benoist tractor biplane will have its first real trials this week. The machine was brought to the field on Thursday. On Friday Antony Jannus took it out for three short preliminary flights, during which the machine appeared to the spectators to be flying wonderfully well, but Tom Benoist was not quite satisfied with a few details and postponed any long flights until the day following. On that day it rained incessantly and on Sunday morning the field was covered with a 12-inch snowfall. It is expected that trials will be continued tomorrow, although there is still about eight inches of snow on the ground.
      Enthusiasts who have seen the new machine pronounce it the best-looking biplane ever brought out in this country. It has the appearance of a regularly manufactured product rather than the first of a new line. Comfortable seats tandem-fashion are provided for two people, with complete control sets for each. The Roberts six-cylinder motor is mounted well in advance of the entering edges of the planes, behind an automobile type radiator made especially for the purpose. The rectangular fuselage of the boxed type is of polished wood and is readily demountable.
      Dr. F.N. Bell, the purchaser of the machine, has been waiting for an opportunity to qualify for his pilot's certificate. He will go out for it this week if conditions are right, using the Benoist school machine on which he learned to fly. Alfred Boulette is also ready to qualify.
      Several new students have enrolled for the early spring course, and have already taken their first flying lessons. Among these are Leo and Teddy Anderson of Parkersburg, W. Va., Charles Eisler of Rockford, Ill., Peter Glazer of Billings, Mont., Carl Flaker of Barertown, Ohio, and C.E. Vandivort of Dallas Texas, and Robert Johnson of St. Louis.
      Eddie Korn, of Sandusky, O., has sold his old Farman-type machine and has ordered a new Benoist military model.
      Tom W. Benoist and E.R. Armstrong, for the techical committee of the Aero Club of St. Louis, have made arrangements to triangulate a course in Florissant Valley covering a circuit of about 10 miles, so as to be able to make an accurate speed test of all machines that come to Kinloch.

     If you search for "Tom Benoist" +aviation, using the Google search engine,
(5-12-11), you will find about 919 links. Among the most recent is the following.

Tom Benoist, Pioneer Aviator
     Just this week I received the following email message:
Dear Ralph Cooper,

This week, our Archives Librarian, Ron, posted this blog article about Tom Benoist. It is just a brief article, but I thought you may like to view it:


Dorene Paul, Reference Assistant
Editor's Note:I thank Dorene for alerting us of this very interesting article.

       In 1917, while riding in an open streetcar to his factory in Sandusky, the 42-year-old Benoist swayed outward as the car made a sharp turn and struck his head on a telephone pole. Three hours later, he was dead.
St. Louis Globe Democrat, October 7, 1928

Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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