W. T. Thomas, 1909
W. T. THOMAS - 1909
Left to right: W. T. Thomas, Unidentified
Collection of Vince Clarida
Courtesy of Bill Abercrombie, 6-7-05

W. T. Thomas, 1909
W. T. THOMAS - 1948
                                                                              News-Journal Photo by Jack Jesses
     THOMAS climbs a ladder to inspect the eye piece of the other end of the telescope.
Collection of Vince Clarida
Courtesy of Bill Abercrombie, 6-7-05

by Vince Clarida
     When discussing the subject of early American aviation pioneers, the first names to pop up would most probably be the Wright Brothers, followed by Glenn H. Curtiss and Glenn L. Martin. It may surprise many of our readers that another aviation pioneer lived for many years right here in Daytona Beach. His name was William T. Thomas Sr. who was involved with developing and manufacturing some of the earliest airplanes produced in the United States. After an illustrious career in the aircraft industry in New York, Thomas retired to Daytona's warm climate in the 1930s when he purchased a stately riverfront home on North Halifax Avenue. He and his family lived there until he passed away in 1966 at age 78.
     To read the rest of the story, click on the title above.


Collected by Sue A. Thomas, 4-24-02
From: Educator at Curtiss Museum [mailto:educationdirector@hotmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 11, 2002 4:25 PM
To: flcpamba@aol.com
Subject: Re: Thomas Brother Aviation School
Hello Sue,
Yes, we do have a lot of info on the Thomas Bros. In our archives. Also,
there is a great book "The Heritage of Bath" that has a nice section on them
w/ photos.
In a nutshell- both came over from Great Britain - Oliver Thomas first-went to work for GE in Schenectady, N.Y. William Thomas came in 1908 to work for Curtiss.
1909- Wm. designed & constructed a Bi-plane
1910 - founded the Thomas Bros. Airplane Co. in Hammondsport
Same year moved his operation to Hornell/Canisteo area to test
Then they moved to Bath, N.Y. (Lake Salubria) a Kirkham engine
was designed there - a pilot friend (also Curtiss employee-Walter Johnson,
began doing all the actual flying from the ice of Lake Salubria "The Thomas
Headless Pusher")
1911 -Oliver joined his brother
1914 - once again they moved their plant to Ithaca, N.Y.
1916 - they merged Thomas School of Aviation & the Thomas Aeromotor Co.
1917- it became the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Co. (they no longer used the
Curtiss OX5 engines)
William continued to do some flying, Oliver was the engineer/Administrative
After WWI, Oliver retired from aviation 1922-William resigned- the company
remained in business until 1929 - Oliver went to Argentina, William to
Daytona Beach
Oliver died in England in 1948 William passed away July 29, 1966
During WWI, their company was the 4th largest producer of military aircraft
in the U.S.
Walter Johnson was a witness at William's wedding. (from Sue A. Thomas)
Editor's Note: This summary of the careers of William and Oliver Thomas was collected by Sue A. Thomas and made available to us through her courtesy. She acquired them by her own initiative and curiosity and is continuing her search for more details. If you can help her in her quest, I am sure she would appreciate it. On behalf of myself and my visitors, I thank her very much for her efforts.

W. T. Thomas & Bill Abercrombie
"Mr. T" and Bill Jr.
     Taken at a control line model airplane meet and shows Mr. T. and Bill, Jr. These models are built for speed and are flown in a circle at the end of thin steel wires 35 to 50 feet long, depending on the size of the engine. It was taken at a meet in Pensacola. This model appears to have no tail and may have been in a crash. Such a crash is not uncommon when you are trying to control something going 100 to 150 mph just a few feet away. Rather dizzying at times. Bill held the world speed record at various times for each of the three classes. The Thomases were virtually unbeatable but the rest of us kept trying. That's where we learned most of our lessons in grace in defeat.
Collection of Vince Clarida
Courtesy of Bill Abercrombie, 6-29-05

W. T. Thomas & Bill Abercrombie
     Bill Thomas is in the center behind the sign and Mr. T. is third from the right. I'm sorry the background is so dark but the foreground is rather good. The cars on the left side are prototype cars and not as fast as the speed models on the right.
Collection of Vince Clarida
Courtesy of Bill Abercrombie, 7-15-05
  Editor's Note: I failed to find any link to "Ormond Raceway" when I searched the net using Google. (7-16-150 However I did find that there is a city of Ormond Beach in Florida. Just out of curiosity, I intend to contact someone in the city to see if they have any more information on the raceway.  

via email from Billy G. Abercrombie, 1-25-05
     Recently I ran across your web site while checking to see what is available on Mr. Thomas. I was one of a number of teenagers who had the great good fortune to do some of our "growing up" with the W. T. Thomas family in Daytona Beach. I am now 74 years old so you can see that this was a long time ago. To say that they were fine people is a huge understatement.
     Mr. T to us boys (his son, Bill, Jr., called him "Moose") had a workshop behind his home where he pursued many interests including the design and building of all types of model airplanes. We boys were seriously into model planes and tended to congregate in his shop. What a patient and long suffering man he was! I often think of him while working in my workshop and wonder if I could tolerate a bunch of teenagers being under foot and using my tools every day. However, he never showed any sign of annoyance or impatience with any of us. He was truly a wonderful man and a fine role model.
     Most of us also were acquainted with Oliver who made several visits from Argentina. As an interesting side note, Mr. T's wife's first name was Olive. I was invited to drive down to Miami with Mr. T on one occasion to meet Oliver's flight from Argentina. I was in his shop one day when an older man rode up on a motorcycle with a dog riding on the gas tank and he was introduced as the Thomas test pilot. I don't remember his name so don't know if it was Mr. Johnson.
     I almost feel like I could write a book about the Thomas family and will be glad to write up some of my memories of them if you are interested. I have no info about their aircraft or company which you do not already have, but there may be no other source of info about this family's personal side except those of us who spent so much time with them.
     I do not have a picture of him but one of our group I keep in touch with may have one. I'll try to get one if you are interested.
     I moved to Cocoa Beach in 1954 so was not in close touch with them after that. I know Bill, Jr. married after his parents' death and moved to another smaller house in Daytona. I visited him there once and think I met his wife but don't remember her name. Is this Sue Thomas mentioned in your site?
Please let me know if I can be of any help.
Bill Abercrombie
P.O. Box 320644
Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0644
via email from Billy G. Abercrombie, 6-28-05
     I will pass on one other little known fact that Mr. T. told me about some of his early planes. In the early days Glenn Curtiss had a patent on the aileron (which was the same as the design of ailerons today) so the Thomas planes could not use them if they were to sell their plane. To get around this, Thomas hit upon the idea of mounting a hinged wing tip type surface midway between the upper and lower regular wing tips. They were normally inclined 45 degrees below the horizontal and connected through wires to the control column. When the pilot wanted to bank left, he moved the control column to the left which raised the hinged wing tip on the right side toward the horizontal and the one on the left toward the vertical, giving more lift on the right side and banking the plane left. Clever, huh?


     If you search for "William T. Thomas +aviation", using the Google search engine, (1-25-05), you will find just 11 links. Two of them refer back to this website. The one cited below is very helpful.

     You will find a comprehensive listing of some 70 different models of planes produced by the Thomas enterprises from 1910 to 1934. It provides detailed descriptions of the planes, illustrated with some 27 photos, To access this wonderful resource, click on:
William T. Thomas

William T. Thomas,
Air Pioneer, Dies

July 29, 1966
Collection of Vince Clarida
Courtesy of Bill Abercrombie, 2-25-05
     William T. Thomas, 78, early airplane pioneer, died today at his home, 105 N. Halifax Ave., after an illness of several months.
     Mr. Thomas, who first came here in retirement from Ithaca, N. Y., in 1921, perhaps was better known locally for his strong support of the Stargazers Club, a group of amateur astronomers.
     He was born in Rosario, Argentina. A graduate civil and mechanical engineer from the Central Technical College in London, England, in 1908, Mr. Thomas built his first airplane in 1909 which flew with a 22 horsepower automobile engine.
Held Early Records
     Later, with his brother, Oliver, he founded the Thomas Brothers Airplane Co. in Ithaca and the Thomas School of Aviation, which was the first such school to be chartered by the Board of Regents in New York State.
       Thomas planes made first flights in many cities from Buffalo, N.Y., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and set numberous records from 1910 to 1922, including an American endurance record with passenger in 1912. Later, one of his planes eclipsed the altitude record held by Lincoln Beachey, famous stunt pilot.
     Mr. Thomas' company merged with the Morse Chain Co. during World War I, forming the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corp., producing the Thomas-Morse Scout, the most famous single seat American aircraft in World War I.
Model Builder
     By the end of the war, the company was the fourth largest producer of aircraft in the U.S. After the war, the company was a pioneer in the construction of all metal aircraft. From 1919 to 1922, there were 22 different makes designed and built by Thomas companies. The Thomas-Morse Co. later was sold to Consolidated Aircraft and General Dynamics, with Mr. Thomas retiring in 1922.
     In his retirement, Mr. Thomas has been an active model builder since 1937 and has done much to help many youths with model aircraft.
     He has been an active amateur astronomer since 1934 and was one of a group who helped meet a shortage of certain optical prisms in World War II by making them in his own shop at home.
Active in Stargazers
     He had been active for many years in the Daytona Beach Stargazers Club, a group which for the past 15 years had met regularly at the Thomas home twice a month for talks and viewing with telescopes.
     In 1960, he helped build one of the first Wankel rotary engines to be run successfully in this country.
     Mr. Thomas was a founder of the Aero Club of Great Britain and Ireland in 1903, a member of the Early Birds, a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, former distrifct vice president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and the president of the Aero Club of Ithaca, in 1913.
     Survivors include his wife, Olive R.; and a son, William T. Jr.; both of Daytona Beach. Robert L. Hannah is in charge.
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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