l Lawrence Leon
Lawrence Leon
To Paul Matt
with appreciation
Lawrence Leon

From the Collection of Joe Gertler

via email from Lucy Leon, 1-16-06
     Lawrence Leon was a native of Torino, Italy. He left Italy in 1906 at age 17 and worked as a machinist and in construction in Mexico and Europe before coming to San Francisco in 1913. He became a U. S. citizen in 1918.
     In 1915 he went to work for the Curtiss Co. in Buffalo, New York, and learned to fly in 1916. He was an instructor at the Curtiss Flying School at Newport News, Va., then a civilian flying instructor for the U.S. Army at Kelly Field and Call Field in Texas. He was married in Texas in 1918 to a French girl he met in San Francisco. He enlisted as a private in the Army in 1918 and was recommended for a commission as Captain. As the war ended he was reemployed by Curtiss and sent to Argentina in 1919 to open agencies in that country and Chile. He was on the payroll of Curtiss Export Co. in several capacities in South America until retirement in 1940.
Lawrence Leon
Curtiss Aviation School or Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station - 1916
     Curtiss started the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in Newport News, Virginia, at what is called the "Small Boat Harbor", with facilities for a small land field and ideal for flying boats. I was asked to go down there and instruct on F Boats. Captain Tom Baldwin was the manager. We arrived about December 19. Crews on land planes and flying boats worked like mad to get their respective plant set up to see who would get in the air first. The boat crew won. I flew the F Boat 15 minutes before Vic Carlstrom got his JN into the air.
     The Curtiss school had the following instructors:
Vic Carlstrom, Vic Vernon, Jimmy Johnson, Carl Batts, Steve McGordon, Ted Hequembourg, Lawrence Leon, Bert Acosta, and Stew Cogswell
     The land planes were JN's and the water planes were F-Boats. We also tested a larger twin float plane type for the Navy.
     The students came from everywhere; plain civilians, Army officers, Navy officers, National Guards, and many Canadians.
     The flying was strenuous, but interesting. Each instructor had about ten students, the average length of a flight was 20 minutes and the day lasted about ten hours. We were paid a guaranteed wage of $50 a week, and when we flew more than five hours, each hour after that was worth $10. One week I made $350, so I sat down and mailed Mr. Harop his $300 and interest which he had loaned me two years before.

an extract from
A Thumbnail Sketch of my Flying Adventures
     The end of the war brought an abrupt end of all flying for German aviators. I had different plans because I loved flying and struggled so hard to become an aviator that I could not bear to give up flying. My decision was to leave Germany if it meant that I could still fly. I went immediately to Argentina in South America.
     There I flew at the Military Airdrome, "El Palomar", near Buenos-Aires. I was acclaimed by Argentine collegues and was detested by some members of the official French Mission who had come to the Argentine to sell their old war planes. Here I met Lawrence Leon, the Curtiss representative and a very fine fellow, who was showing the Argentines the beauty of his high priced, but low powered, OX Jennies. (civil aviation was still a novelty in the country and the endeavors of ex-war fliers like myself had won much enthusiasm for it.
     My acrobatic exhibitions and stunt flying, as well as flight instruction and passenger flying, had made me a well known aviation figure in Argentina. I became celebrated as a stunt flyer and formed an air circus and have the distinction of still being the only pilot who had transferred an acrobat from the airplane to a moving automobile in South America. This stunt was performed over ordinary dirt roads along the flying fields and in front of the grandstands in horse race tracks. These roads were bumpy, dusty and had straight stretches of only a few hundred yards in length so that the car could never pick up the speed necessary to make the transfer with ease. We had sand bags tied to the lowest rungs of the rope ladder to hold the ladder in position while flying. Many times the driver had been walloped over the head with these sand bags at a speed of 100-120 miles per hour and often times they refused to continue driving as they did not relish the idea of having their brains spattered all over the dirt race tracks of South America.
     We made our appearances in closed-in "Sportivas" and horse racing tracks....loose dirt, dusty, short straightaway stretches, sometimes on an up-hill grade, with posts and rails to either side of the road only a few feet from the Jenny's upper shoulder... We encountered side winds too and unbearable heat over the tracks so that I neared the dangerous speed very often. The motor car used was not a racing model but always a stock model of a very popular make.
     I have several books filled with clippings and photographs which tell my story and I can speak of many interesting incidents of those days of daring flying with my two acrobats. One of the acrobats was a young German lad who was later killed (but not by me) while stunting in Chile, and the other acrobat was a very adventurous young lady who created quite an uproar with her daredevil stunting. I remained in South America for almost ten years and started just in time to take my share in the boom which surely was to follow Lindbergh's feat for America. I left Argentina for the United States shortly thereafter.
Editor's Note: You can read the entire story by clicking on:

     If you search for "Lawrence Leon", using the Google search engine, (6-13-07), you will find about 50 links. Only a few are relevant and the additional information provided is only marginal.

     This website offers a wealth of material which will be of interest to the fan of early aviation and aviators. It displays samples of the collections of Joe Gertler, who kindly provided us with the beautiful portrait of Lawrence which is seen at the top of this page.
     You will find sections devoted to Aero Engines, Instruments, Race Cars & History, Docs & Signatures, Aviation Art, Wright Brothers, Misc. & Other and "For Sale." You can visit the site by clicking on the title above.

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