Thomas W. Benoist

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Thomas Wesley Benoist
Thomas Wesley Benoist.jpg
Born(1874-12-29)December 29, 1874
DiedJune 14, 1917(1917-06-14) (aged 42)
Cause of deathStreetcar accident
Resting place Hopewell Cemetery, Hopewell, Washington County, Missouri
Aircraft designer
Aircraft manufacturer
Airline entrepreneur

Thomas W. Benoist (December 29, 1874 – June 14, 1917) was an American aviator and aircraft manufacturer. In an aviation career of only ten years, he formed the world's first aircraft parts distribution company, established one of the leading early American aircraft manufacturing companies and a successful flying school, and from January to April 1914 operated the world's first scheduled airline. [1] [2]

Airline company that provides air transport services for traveling passengers and freight

An airline is a company that provides air transport services for traveling passengers and freight. Airlines utilize aircraft to supply these services, and may form partnerships or alliances with other airlines for codeshare agreements. Generally, airline companies are recognized with an air operating certificate or license issued by a governmental aviation body.



Early life

Thomas Wesley Benoist was born on December 29, 1874, in Irondale, Missouri, the son of Pierre E. Benoist and the former Anna S. Gregory. One of the first industrialists in St. Louis, Missouri, he was a successful businessman in the automobile industry by 1904. [2]

Irondale, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Irondale is a city in Washington County, Missouri, United States. The population was 445 at the 2010 census.

St. Louis independent city in Missouri, United States

St. Louis is a major independent city and inland port in the U.S. state of Missouri. It is situated along the western bank of the Mississippi River, which marks Missouri's border with Illinois. The Missouri River merges with the Mississippi River just north of the city, forming the fourth-longest river system in the world. The city had an estimated 2018 population of 302,838 and is the cultural and economic center of the St. Louis metropolitan area, which is the largest metropolitan area in Missouri, and the 20th-largest in the United States.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

In 1904, Benoist was among the sponsors of an unsuccessful lighter-than-air flying machine somewhat similar to a helicopter which the balloonist John Berry attempted to fly at that year's Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World's Fair. While attending the fair, he observed an observation balloon tethered at an altitude of 1,000 feet (305 meters) and glider demonstrations by William Avery, an associate of the noted aviation pioneer Octave Chanute. Despite the failure of Berry's aircraft, what Benoist saw at the fair piqued his interest in aviation, and he oriented his future career toward it. [2]

Helicopter Type of rotor craft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors

A helicopter, or chopper, is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forward, backward, and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixed-wing aircraft and many forms of VTOL aircraft cannot perform.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World's Fair, was an international exposition held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, from April 30 to December 1, 1904. Local, state, and federal funds totaling $15 million were used to finance the event. More than 60 countries and 43 of the 45 American states maintained exhibition spaces at the fair, which was attended by nearly 19.7 million people.

Observation balloon type of balloons

An observation balloon is a type of balloon that is employed as an aerial platform for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. Use of observation balloons began during the French Revolutionary Wars, reaching their zenith during World War I, and they continue in limited use today.


In 1907, Benoist in partnership with E. Percy Noel founded the Aeronautic Supply Company, known as Aerosco, the world's first aircraft parts distributor. At first, Aerosco limited itself to dealing in raw materials and parts for use in aviation experiments, but it soon expanded to sell kits allowing customers to assemble complete airplanes, including those by leading manufacturers of the day, such as Blériot monoplanes, Curtiss biplanes, Farman biplanes, and Wright Flyers. It also sold a wide range of books on aviation topics. [2]

Blériot Aéronautique aircraft manufacturer

Blériot Aéronautique was a French aircraft manufacturer founded by Louis Blériot. It also made a few motorcycles between 1921 and 1922 and cyclecars during the 1920s.

Monoplane Fixed-wing aircraft with a single main wing plane

A monoplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with a single main wing plane, in contrast to a biplane or other multiplane, each of which has multiple planes.

Glenn Curtiss American aviator and industrialist

Glenn Hammond Curtiss was an American aviation and motorcycling pioneer, and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry. He began his career as a bicycle racer and builder before moving on to motorcycles. As early as 1904, he began to manufacture engines for airships. In 1908, Curtiss joined the Aerial Experiment Association, a pioneering research group, founded by Alexander Graham Bell at Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, to build flying machines.


Benoist making his first flight, in a Gill-Curtiss biplane at Kinloch Field in Kinloch, Missouri, on September 18, 1910. Thomas W. Benoist first flight.jpg
Benoist making his first flight, in a Gill-Curtiss biplane at Kinloch Field in Kinloch, Missouri, on September 18, 1910.

Benoist soon purchased a Curtiss-type airplane built by Howard Gill and learned to fly it, making his first flight on September 18, 1910, at the Kinloch Park Aero Club field in Kinloch, Missouri. [3] [4] He gave flying exhibitions in the Midwestern and Southern United States, but an injury he suffered in a flying mishap during one of them prevented him from taking part in an international aviation meet in mid-October 1910.

Kinloch, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Kinloch is a city in St. Louis County, Missouri, United States. The population was 298 as of the 2010 census.

Midwestern United States region that includes parts of Canada and the United States

The Midwestern United States, also referred to as the American Midwest, Middle West, or simply the Midwest, is one of four census regions of the United States Census Bureau. It occupies the northern central part of the United States. It was officially named the North Central Region by the Census Bureau until 1984. It is located between the Northeastern United States and the Western United States, with Canada to its north and the Southern United States to its south.

Southern United States Cultural region of the United States

The Southern United States, also known as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South, is a region of the United States of America. It is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Western United States, with the Midwestern United States and Northeastern United States to its north and the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico to its south.

Aerosco Flying School and Benoist Aircraft Company

In March 1911, Benoist established the Aerosco Flying School at Kinloch Field, and it soon drew students from throughout the United States; it later was renamed the Benoist Flying School. At around the same time, he bought out his partner and moved the original Aerosco company to a larger facility in a suburb of St. Louis, renaming it the Benoist Aircraft Company. With the name change, he reoriented the company from dealing in aviation parts and kits for aircraft by other manufacturers to building airplanes of original design. As an intermediate step, he designed and manufactured a version of the Curtiss-Gill airplane he had purchased in 1910. The flying school and manufacturing concern were both so successful that Benoist airplanes and pilots soon were appearing all over the United States. [2] [5] [6]

The Benoist Aircraft Company was an early manufacturer of aircraft in the United States. It was formed in 1912 in St Louis, Missouri by Thomas W. Benoist. Over the next five years, it would manufacture some 106 aircraft, including Benoist XIVs that would be used for the first heavier-than-air airline service. The company dissolved with Tom Benoist's accidental death in 1917.

On October 20, 1911, the Benoist Aircraft factory burned to the ground, destroying five complete airplanes, many tools, machinery, and all of the company's files. Although the loss was not insured, Benoist bounced back quickly, opening a new factory nearby, bringing aviator Tony Jannus who would soon become its chief pilot into the company in November 1911, and designing and building the first Benoist airplane of completely original design, the Type XII Headless, before the end of 1911. [2] [6]

By 1912, Benoist Aircraft was one of the leading aircraft companies in the world. [7] The Type XII Headless made history when, piloted by Jannus, it carried Albert Berry over Kinloch Field on March 1, 1912, and Berry made the world's first successful parachute jump from an airplane. Improvements in the Type XII led to the development of the Land Tractor Type XII later in the year, which, configured as a floatplane, set a distance record for overwater flight in a journey of 1,973 miles (3,177 km) down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers from Omaha, Nebraska, to New Orleans, Louisiana, between November 6 and December 16, 1912. Jannus performed 42 aerial exhibitions during the trip, exposing thousands of people in the central and southern United States to aviation. [2]

In December 1912, Benoist Aircraft produced its first flying boat, the Type XIII Lake Cruiser, which the company demonstrated widely during the summer of 1913. A larger Type XIV flying boat soon followed. [2]

During the Great Lakes Reliability Cruise in 1913, Benoist entered three aircraft, flown by Antony Jannus, Hugh Robinson, and Benoist himself. [8] [9] Throughout the spring and summer, Aero and Hydro (a newsletter published by Benoist's partner E. Percy Noel) promoted the Reliability Cruise, listing Benoist aircraft as the first three entrants.

First scheduled airline

In 1913, Percival E. Fansler brought in Benoist to start an air passenger service using Benoist Aircraft's new flying boats to connect St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, two cities that otherwise were a day's travel apart at the time. Benoist signed a three-month contract to provide the service with the St. Petersburg Board of Trade on December 17, 1913, subsidizing 50% of the costs for starting the airline. Benoist initiated the service, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, using a Benoist XIV flying boat, on January 1, 1914. It was the first scheduled airline service in the world. [10] Two Benoist XIVs provided twice-daily service across Tampa Bay and by the time the initial contract expired on March 31, 1914, had transported 1,204 passengers without injury, losing only four days to mechanical problems. A decline in business led the airline to shut down in late April 1914 and sell its two flying boats. [2]

Transatlantic flight ambition

In early 1913, Benoist and Jannus initiated the development of a large new flying boat capable of transatlantic flight. When in early 1914 the Daily Mail of London offered a $50,000 prize for the first transatlantic flight of under 72 hours, the two men developed the Type XV flying boat, capable of remaining aloft for 40 hours with six passengers on board. It was ready to fly in 1915, but by then the outbreak of World War I in late July 1914 had made a transatlantic attempt impossible. Benoist Aircraft and the St. Louis Car Company jointly proposed the construction of 5,000 Type XVs for the United Kingdom for use on antisubmarine patrols, but the British preferred Curtiss flying boats and nothing came of the idea. [2]

Financial troubles and later designs

Unable to secure a large contract for its airplanes during the war, Benoist Aircraft began to experience financial problems by 1915. To reduce costs, Benoist moved the company first to Chicago, Illinois, and then to Sandusky, Ohio, where it affiliated with the Roberts Motor Company, which was Benoist's preferred source for aircraft engines. Benoist designed the Type XVI flying boat and Type XVII landplane, both of which appeared in 1916. [2]


On June 14, 1917, Benoist died when he struck his head against a telephone pole while stepping off a streetcar in front of the Roberts Motor Company in Sandusky. [2] [11] With him gone and facing continued financial problems, the Benoist Aircraft Company and the Roberts Motor Company both went out of business in early 1918. Benoist Aircraft had built just over 100 airplanes in its history by the time it ceased operations. [2]

Benoist is buried at Hopewell Cemetery in Hopewell in Washington County, Missouri.

Related Research Articles

Flying boat Aircraft equipped with a boat hull for operation from water

A flying boat is a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull, allowing it to land on water, that usually has no type of landing gear to allow operation on land. It differs from a floatplane as it uses a purpose-designed fuselage which can float, granting the aircraft buoyancy. Flying boats may be stabilized by under-wing floats or by wing-like projections from the fuselage. Flying boats were some of the largest aircraft of the first half of the 20th century, exceeded in size only by bombers developed during World War II. Their advantage lay in using water instead of expensive land-based runways, making them the basis for international airlines in the interwar period. They were also commonly used for maritime patrol and air-sea rescue.

Seaplane airplane with an undercarriage capable of operating from water surfaces

A seaplane is a powered fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off and landing (alighting) on water. Seaplanes that can also take off and land on airfields are in a subclass called amphibious aircraft. Seaplanes and amphibians are usually divided into two categories based on their technological characteristics: floatplanes and flying boats; the latter are generally far larger and can carry far more. These aircraft were sometimes called hydroplanes, but currently this term applies instead to motor-powered watercraft that use the technique of hydrodynamic lift to skim the surface of water when running at speed.

1912 in aviation

This is a list of aviation-related events from 1912:

Tony Jannus American aviator

Antony Habersack Jannus, more familiarly known as Tony Jannus, was an early American pilot whose aerial exploits were widely publicized in aviation's pre-World War I period. He flew the first airplane from which a parachute jump was made, in 1912. Jannus was also the first airline pilot, having pioneered the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line on January 1, 1914, the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the world using heavier-than-air aircraft. The Tony Jannus Award, created to perpetuate his legacy, recognizes outstanding individual achievement in the scheduled commercial aviation industry and is conferred annually by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society founded in Tampa, Florida, in 1963.

Thomas Scott Baldwin American balloonist

Thomas Scott Baldwin was a pioneer balloonist and U.S. Army major during World War I. He was the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute.

Hugh Robinson (aviator) American aviation pioneer

Hugh Armstrong Robinson was a pioneer in the earliest days of aviation, combining his skills of inventor, pilot, and daredevil. Among other things, he is said to have been the third person to successfully fly an aircraft after the Wright Brothers in a plane of his own design and construction and the first person to make an air-sea rescue. His many firsts also include the first medical flight transporting a doctor to patient in Hammond, N.Y. in June 1912 and first U.S. airmail flight in 1911. Robinson also devised the term and art of dive-bombing.

Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps

The Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps (1907–1914) was the first heavier-than-air military aviation organization in history and the progenitor of the United States Air Force. A component of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the Aeronautical Division procured the first powered military aircraft in 1909, created schools to train its aviators, and initiated a rating system for pilot qualifications. It organized and deployed the first permanent American aviation unit, the 1st Aero Squadron, in 1913. The Aeronautical Division trained 51 officers and 2 enlisted men as pilots, and incurred 13 fatalities in air crashes. During this period, the Aeronautical Division had 29 factory-built aircraft in its inventory, built a 30th from spare parts, and leased a civilian airplane for a short period in 1911.

Burgess Company

The Burgess Company was a U.S. airplane manufacturer between 1910 and 1918.

Albert Bond Lambert Amateur golfer, aviator, police chief

Albert Bond Lambert was an American golfer who competed in the 1900 Summer Olympics and in the 1904 Summer Olympics. He was also a prominent St. Louis aviator and benefactor of aviation.

Tony Jannus Award

The Tony Jannus Award recognizes outstanding individual achievement in scheduled commercial aviation by airline executives, inventors and manufacturers, and government leaders. The award is conferred annually by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society and was first bestowed in 1964 in Tampa, Florida, U.S. Its namesake, aviation pioneer Tony Jannus, piloted the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line on January 1, 1914, the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the world using heavier-than-air aircraft. In addition to preserving the legacy of Tony Jannus, the non-profit Society also offers financial assistance to college students pursuing studies in aviation and conducts an annual essay contest for high school students to encourage careers in aviation.

Benoist XIV flying boat

The Benoist XIV, also called The Lark of Duluth, was a small biplane flying boat built in the United States in 1913 in the hope of using it to carry paying passengers. The two examples built were used to provide the first heavier-than-air airline service anywhere in the world, and the first airline service of any kind at all in the United States.

Curtiss Model F flying boat

The Curtiss Models F made up a family of early flying boats developed in the United States in the years leading up to World War I. Widely produced, Model Fs saw service with the United States Navy under the designations C-2 through C-5, later reclassified to AB-2 through AB-5. Several examples were exported to Russia, and the type was built under license in Italy.

St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line

The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line was the first scheduled airline using a fixed wing aircraft. The airline provided service between St. Petersburg, Florida and neighboring Tampa across Tampa Bay a distance of about 23 miles. It was in service from January to May 1914.

Logan Archbold Vilas American aviation

Logan Archbold "Jack" Vilas was an aviation pioneer and a member of the Early Birds of Aviation. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000.

Benoist is both a given name and a surname.

Weldon B. Cooke American aviation pioneer

Weldon Baxter Cooke was a pioneer aviator.

Aviation in Washington, D.C.

The United States capital, Washington, D.C., has been the site of several events in the nation's history of aviation, beginning from the time of the American Civil War, often for the purpose of promoting the adoption of new aeronautical technologies by the government. It has also been home to several aircraft manufacturers and aviation organizations, and many aerospace contractors have maintained a presence there as well.

St. Louis Aircraft Corporation was an American aircraft manufacturer founded in September 1917.

Benoist Land Tractor Type XII

The Benoist Land Tractor Type XII was one of the first enclosed cockpit, tractor configuration aircraft built. Benoist used "Model XII" to several aircraft that shared the same basic engine and wing design, but differed in fuselage and control surfaces.


  1. Missouri Historical Society. Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, Volumes 31-32.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Roos, Frederick W., "The Brief, Bright Aviation Career of St. Louis's Tom Benoist," American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., 2005. Archived December 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  3. James Neal Primm. Lion of the valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764-1980.
  4. AAHS journal, Volume 43. 1998.
  5. E. R. Johnson. American flying boats and amphibious aircraft: an illustrated history.
  6. 1 2 Lynn M. Homan; Thomas Reilly; Rosalie M. Shepherd. Women Who Fly.
  7. Reginald D Woodcock. Benoist: Thomas W. Benoist, Benoist Airplane Company, Benoist students and pilots.
  8. Noel, E. Percy (April 5, 1913). "Three entries made in Aero and Hydro Cruise" (Volume VI No 1). Aero and Hydro. p. 3. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  9. Noel, E. Percy (May 31, 1913). "Aero and Hydro Great Lakes Reliabilit Cruise Entries to Date" (Volume VI No 9). Aero and Hydro. p. 166. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  10. Flying. December 1953.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. "Welcome to Flight City". Archived from the original on November 21, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011.