The Daily Mail's Sponsorship of British Pioneer Aviation

The Daily Mail did a lot to encourage aviation in the first two decades of the 20th century, by offering cash prizes for certain aviation objectives. The first prize to be offered was in 1906, when £10,000 was offered to the first aviator to fly from London to Manchester, within 24 hours, in a heavier than air machine. Two touchdowns were permitted and the start and finish points had to be within 5 miles of the city centres. This sum of £10,000 is equivalent to over £3m today based on average earnings, but nevertheless it was not until 1910 that the challenge was taken up.

Claude Grahame-White inspecting the damage to his overturned aeroplane, near Lichfield, after it had been flipped over by the wind, during his abandoned first attempt at the Daily Mail London - Manchester prize, 23 April 1910.

Claude Grahame-White, an Englishman, took off from Park Royal at 05.12 on 23 April 1910 and followed the London & North Western Railway line to Rugby, the sleepers having been pained white to assist him. He made a scheduled stop at Rugby at 07.15, where he tried to warm himself, before taking off again at 08.25. Only 30 miles further, an engine problem forced him to land near Lichfield. By the time repairs were completed the weather had changed and high winds prevented another take off. Soldiers from a nearby barracks who had been guarding the plane were instructed to tether it, but this never happened and the plane was blown over by the winds and suffered damage. The plane was taken to the Daily Mail's hangar in London for repairs.

Printed card of M. Paulhan, winner of the £10,000 Daily Mail prize for the first flight from London to Manchester.

On 27 April 1910, a Frenchman, Louis Paulhan, made an attempt. He departed from what became Hendon Airport and his route was followed by a special train carrying his supporters. On hearing that Paulhan was making an attempt, Grahame-White set off again in hot pursuit. When he was about 60 miles behind Paulhan, Grahame-White made a decision to fly through the night, guided by the headlights of the support vehicles on the ground. Because of a heavy load of fuel and oil he could not gain enough altitude to cross high ground ahead of him and had to abandon the attempt for a second time at Polesworth, only 10 miles behind Paulhan. Paulhan went on to land at Didsbury and won the prize.

A real photographic card of the crash landing, at Dover, of Louis Blériot's successful flight across the English Channel. Such photographic cards are much rarer than the printed cards published by the Daily Mirror.

Louis Blériot in his Blériot monoplane.

In 1909 the Daily Mail offered a prize of £1,000 to the first aviator to cross the English Channel. Again a race developed and the story of Louis Blériot's successful crash landing at Dover is well known. The Daily Mirror printed a postcard of the landing and it is very common. Unsurprisingly it does not mention the Daily Mail prize. Blériot's aircraft was exhibited at Selfridges in London on the day after the historic crossing and they issued a series of printed cards to mark the event. These were published by Tuck and they are equally as poor in definition as the Daily Mirror cards. Real photographic cards of the event are much rarer.

1909, July 26th, menu for dinner, at the Prince's Restaurant, Piccadilly, in honour of Louis Blériot, who crossed the English Channel by aeroplane on the previous day, signed L. Blériot and dated London le 27/7/09 and again signed by him and dated 27 Juillet '29, on the occasion of the closing banquet of the 7th International Aero Exhibition. The menu is also signed by his wife.

In July 2011 we auctioned a menu of a banquet at the Savoy Hotel, in London, held to honour Louis Blériot's Channel crossing the previous day. It had been autographed by Blériot and his wife and had also been signed a second time by Blériot, 20 years later, on his attendance at the closing banquet of the 7th International Aero Exhibition. It realised £483, including the buyer's premium.

Printed advertisement card for Waterman's Ideal Fountain Pens, depicting "André Beaumont" (actual name Jean Connau), winner of the 1911Daily Mail Circuit of Britain air race. His prize was £10,000 and no doubt received additional funding from endorsements.

A wonderfully detailed real photographic card of "Colonel" S.F Cody about to make a flight in his monoplane. He died in 1913 when piloting a seaplane in preparation for the 1913 Daily Mail Circuit of Britain air race.

Cody watching propellers being fixed to his monoplane.

The Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Air Races were British cross-country air races which took place from 1911 until 1914. The 1911 event had a prize of £10,000 for the first aviator who could complete the 1,010 mile circular course, starting and ending at Brooklands in Surrey. There were 30 entrants, but many crashed their machines either before the start or during the race and many retired due to problems. Only 4 aviators completed the race, the winner being the Frenchman Jean Conneau, flying under the name of André Beaumont, in a Blériot monoplane. He completed the distance at an average speed of 45 mph. The aviator who came forth was the famous showman "Colonel" S.F. Cody. The 1913 event was for seaplanes and carried a prize of £5,000. It was whilst test flying his machine in preparation for this race that Cody was killed.

June 1919 saw the British aviators John Alcock and Arthur "Teddie" Brown cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber. Again there was a cash prize of £10,000 offered by the Daily Mail. Strangely postcards of this event are very much scarcer than those of Blériot's Channel crossing 10 years earlier. Perhaps the reason for this is that the crash landing took place in Ireland, where relatively few postcards publishers were producing social history cards compared with England.

The final Daily Mail aviation prize was awarded to Amy Johnson for the first solo flight from Great Britain to Australia in 1930. In total, the Daily Mail awarded over £58,000 in prizes for aviation events between 1906 and 1930, a staggering amount, which certainly speeded up the advance of aviation in those pioneering days.

George Beatty and Captain C. Tyrer, flying at Hendon A number of flying schools were based at Hendon, including Grahame-White's, and another established in 1914 by the American aviator George Beatty, in partnership with Handley Page Ltd.

Real photographic portrait of Claude Grahame-White at Hendon. In 1911 he established a flying school at Hendon, which eventually became Hendon Aerodrome. It was purchased by the RAF in 1925, after a protracted legal struggle.

By Colin Such.

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