Wade Stevens, 1917

by Connie Schnoor
Niece of Wade, 1-25-03

     Wade Stevens was born July 10, 1896. His parents, John and Lillian Stevens, were living in Arapahoe, Nebraska at the time, but Wade was born in the home of his maternal grandparents, John and Susan Wade, who lived on a farm about five miles southwest of Beaver City.
     When the United States entered World War I Wade decided to join the Air Force. At that time there was a three years college requirement. He hadn't any college but he had taught at a country school and his suggestion that his three years teaching be counted as three years of college, and he was accepted and enlisted in the Armiy Signal Corps at Fort Omaha, Nebraska. He was then transferred to the University of Illinois at Champaign where he took his ground school training. Then he was assigned to Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. He was sent to France and sent to the Third Aviation Instruction center at Issoudun, France where his duties consisted of grading American pilots who were taking single seater flight instruction.
     After the war, Wade returned to Nebraska, but before leaving New York, Wade went to the office of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corp. to inquire about purchasing an airplane. Before going overseas, Dr. Frank Brewster had called Wade and had told him that he wanted to buy a plane and have Wade fly it for him. So Wade ordered a plane for Dr. Brewster at the cost of $8,000. The doctor chose a landing field site, the first in Nebraska, and built a hangar. The plane arrived by train in two boxes which were hauled to the landing field by horses. Wade assembled the plane iwht the help of a local mechanic who had never seen a plane.
     In May of 1919, Wade and Dr. Brewster made the first professional flight to Herndon, Kansas, where the doctor had been called to attend a man.
     To put things into perspective, these flights that Wade and Dr. Brewster were making were eight years before Lindbergh made his Transatlantic flight and only sixteen years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.
     Wade decided to go to law school and registered at the University of Nebraska Law School where he earned his degree in three years.
     On a personal note, Wade and Flora Warner were married on December 29, 1920. They had three children: John Warner Stevens, born October 9, 19212, Kathryn Ann, born September 2, 1923, and Marilyn Marie, born February 28, 1926.
     Wade Stevens died February 10, 1983. Flora Stevens died June 18, 2001. His only remaining child is Ann Stevens Hileman.
The state of Nebraska did a documentary on Dr. Brewster and Wade Stevens was mentioned in it. Also, my brother, John Stevens Berry, practiced law with Uncle Wade in McCook, Nebraska before he went to Viet Nam. He is currently practicing in Lincoln.
     Wade did write a little booklet, LIFE AND TIMES OF WADE STEVENS, for his family. Ann might have an extra copy of that.

McCOOK Wade Stevens, 1917 GAZETTE
McCOOK, NEBRASKA 69001, FRIDAY, MAY 23, 1969
Wade Stevens Helped Make Flying History 50 Years Ago

Wade Stevens
World's First
McCook Attorney Wade Stevens (right) was the pilot of the first airplane in the world to be used for commercial purposes. He is shown here with the late Dr. Frank A. Brewster, a physician at Beaver City, who purchased the plane 50 years ago today. The plane was a Curtiss-Wright JN4D (Jenny). The Times Tribune weekly at Beaver City stated there were 8,000 people in Beaver City who came from miles around to see the airplane.
  HOLDREDGE (AP) -- Flying history was made 50 years ago Friday -- May 23, 1919, when a Beaver City, Neb., physician flew to Herndon, Kan., to perform surgery on an oilfield worker who had suffered a crushed skull in an accident.
     It was thought to be the first time that an airplane had been used for commercial or humanitarian purposes.
     The late Dr. Fank Brewster of Holdrege was the man who was widely acclaimed as "The first flying doctor."
     The plane, a Curtiss-Wright JN4D which cost $8,000, was piloted by Wade Stevens, now a McCook, Neb., attorney who had been a pilot in World War I.
     The airplane was shipped to Beaver City on a flat car in two large boxes, the fuselage in one and the wing and tail section in the other. The local drayman used his team of horses and dray to haul them to the hangar which had been constructed on a landing field about a mile east of town. Stevens assembled the plane.
     Stevens, reminiscing about the event at the dedication of the Holdrege Air Field in Dr. Brewster's name, said, "on the bright quiet evening of May 19, 1919, the first test flight was made. Quite a number of people besides Dr. Brewster wanted to go with me on that first flight, but I declined to take anyone because if any mistakes had been made in assembly they were my mistakes. The flight, however, was entirely successful and after cruising around to get some altitude and find the plane properly aligned, I did a few spirals, a few wing-overs, then went from a stall into a spin, and with plenty of altitude remaining came out and circled for a landing. On the next flight, Dr. Brewster was the first passenger."
     The flying doctor treated patients in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas for many years. At some farmsteads, sheets were hung on windmills to show where to land. To improve medical facilities, Dr. Brewster built hospitals at Arapahoe, Beaver City, Holdrege, Lexington and Oberlin, Kan. He was a consulting physician at these hosp;pitals for many years.
     While Dr. Brewster performed two operations in the McCook hospital, Pilot Stevens took up the followng passengers for short flights: Charles W. Kelley, H. D. Strunk, G. H. Watkins, Mina A. Line, B. L. Laugmaid, Joseph Cashen, Paul R. Colson and Gerald Elbert.
     According to a clipping form the Beaver City paper, Editor Strunk had made arrangements with Stevens for fancy stunts. Strunk said he woujld raise both his arms as soon as he wanted a taste of fancy flying. He kept both arms down during the flight--a plain ride without fancy stunts evidently was all he desired. The plane traveled at a height of 2,200 feet over Arapahoe, Holbrook, Cambridge, Bartley and Indianola. A landing place had been marked in McCook with two white strips of canvas arranged in the shape of a T.
     As a flying man, Dr. Brewster built the first airport in Nebraska at Beaver City. Then he financed and built airports in McCook, Grand Island, Holdrege and Oberlin, Kan.
     He took his practice to the air because often the prairie roads were impassable and flying was much faster. Dr Brewster said that the pastures provided excellent landing fields. Cattle were often intrigued by the smell of the dope put on the wings for shrinkage, and had to be shooed away before they licked holes in the fabric.
     Dr. Brewster hired professional pilots to fly him during his busy medical years and finally received his pilot's license when he was 71. He took his training at Yankton, S.D., from Arvine Bierman of Holdrege. Bierman also taught Dr. Frank's sons, Wayne and Don, now physicians also, to fly.
     Dr. Brewster was born near Beatrice, Neb., and was graduated from the University of Nebraska medical school in 1900. He moved to Holdrege in 1924....
Newsclipping courtesy of Connie Schnoor


You can find a brief description of his career on the website:
Flying into the J Street Airfield
From Day's Gone By
By Walt Sehnert
Just click on Stevens
You might want to use the "Find" tool on "Wade"
I think you will want to read the whole story for its general interest.

     You can read two stories of the pioneering Dr. Frank A. Brewster, which includes references to his pilot, Wade Stevens, on the NEBRASKA website. The page includes a very nice picture of the two standing in front of their Jenny. You may access the page by clicking on:
Brewster & Stevens

     The story of Dr. Frank Brewster, who first used the airplane for an emergency medical flight, with Wade Stevens as his pilot, is also recounted on the Virtual Nebraska - The Gateway to "Digital Earth" website. Included is a photo of Brewster and Stevens with his plane. You may access the site by clicking on:
Beaver City

     I am searching for information on Wade Stevens who was a trainer of pilots in the first World War. He lived in Beaver City, Nebraska, and when he returned from the war in 1919 he piloted a Jenny for Dr. Brewster. He is noted as the first 'commercial' pilot.
Any help would be appreciated!
Charlie Brennecke

The date of his death is unknown
Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this Early Flier,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

BackNext Home