1910: Philip Parmelee of St. Johns Makes First Air Freight Delivery

November 7, 2020 all-day

We’re into November now and the holiday shipping season is kicking into high gear. In the weeks to come, billions of tons of cargo will be flown around the world. A small slice of that will come through the Capital Region International Airport, which continues to build its so-named Port Lansing cargo and customs facility.

The entire global air freight industry can be traced back to one man, a daring pilot who once lived just 20 miles from Lansing’s airport. Philip Parmelee grew up in St. Johns. He learned to fly from Orville Wright himself. And, on November 7, 1910, Parmelee carried a bundle of silk cloth in an hour-long flight whose details have been largely forgotten.

Parmele was very mechanically inclined.  He was discovered by a representative from Buick. He drove their cars throughout the south and the east on long tours showing that the Buick was very sturdy.

While he was on one of these tours he visited the Wrights’ flying school in Montgomery, Alabama in the winter of 1909 and he was bitten by the flying bug. And so he took the flying course in Dayton from the Wright brothers. Orville taught the students. As soon as he finished his instructions, he was hired by them as a demonstration pilot and started demonstration flying in September of 1910.  And that’s why he was chosen to take a commercial package from Dayton to Columbus, which he became very famous for.

Max Morehouse, the owner/operator of a major department store in Columbus asked if they could fly him a cargo shipment of French silk, which at the time was not easy to get in short order.

The morning of the actual flight was a cold day and Parmelee suited up in motorcycle gear. He flew up to around 2,000 feet where it was freezing cold. So 66 minutes later he arrived in Columbus having followed railroad lines, roads, and so on.  His only navigation system being a road map. He had no compass.

Afterwards, Parmelee worked with both civilians and the military. He flew along the border with Mexico and proved that airplanes could be used as great spotters for people like Pancho Villa to keep them out of our country.
He dropped bombs and showed that that was feasible. He also took pictures from airplanes that show you could do reconnaisance that way.

Source : Kevin Lavery,  “Before Lindbergh and Earhart, Michigan pilot launched commercial air freight industry“, WKAR History, November 6, 2015.

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