1909: An Aviation Milestone for Automobile Dealers in New York City

June 22, 1909

Talk about being multimodal! The firm of Wyckoff, Church & Partridge (WCP), automobile dealers based in New York City, formally became the first corporate entity in the United States to sell planes. As far as automobiles were concerned, WCP had already established itself by that time as an early pioneer in showrooms for cars and the first to create a fleet of taxicabs. Clarence F. Wyckoff was the president of WCP; Ernest F. Partridge served as the firm’s vice president, while A.W. Church carried out the duties of secretary.

Wyckoff was the one who made arrangements with the aircraft manufacturer Herring-Curtiss Company to sell its planes to the public. This aircraft company had been established earlier that year by aviation trailblazers Augustus Moore Herring and Glenn Curtiss. Their enterprise was renamed the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in 1910 and reorganized a couple of years later after being taken over by the Curtiss Motor Company. In 1929, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company merged with several other companies to form the present-day Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

During the time in which Wyckoff made those arrangements for WCP to sell Herring-Curtiss planes, Partridge was on an extended trip to Europe. As Partridge made clear in an interview later that year, however, he was fully supportive of WCP’s new venture after belatedly learning about it. “Both Mr. Wyckoff and I have realized for some months that the handling and selling of aeroplanes to the general public would soon be both feasible and commercially practicable,” noted Partridge in an article appearing in the November 1909 issue of Aeronautics: The American Magazine of Aerial Locomotion.

The new partnership between WCP and the Herring-Curtiss Company meant that the sky was now the limit when it came to that New York City firm’s transportation options for customers. The arrangements for WCP to start selling planes were finalized on the night of June 22, 1909. Less than 24 hours, the first order for one of those planes was placed. The buyer was Arthur P. Warner, vice president and general manager of the Warner Instrument Company in the city of Beloit, Wisconsin.

The 39-year-old Warner was no stranger to the automotive world, and he has achieved fame for contributions to transportation that go beyond just being the first individual to purchase a plane from an American corporate entity. Warner is widely credited with inventing the first magnetic speedometer for automobiles, for example.

As Aeronautics magazine underscored, though, Warner’s enthusiasm for human flight was anything but casual or spur-of-the-moment. “For a number of years Mr. Warner has made a close study of aviation, and through ‘Aeronautics’ has kept himself fully posted on the progress of the various American and foreign gasless machines,” stated an article in the magazine’s August 1909 issue.

This article also outlined the plans for Warner’s plane once it was built and ready for delivery to him. “The machine is to be shipped to Beloit, where Mr. Warner will begin trials,” reported Aeronautics. “In the winter, the adjacent lake will provide a perfect place for learning.”

With an aeronautical department put in place at WCP’s office at Broadway and 56th Street in New York City, the firm continued to sell planes over the next few years. “Drive an Aeroplane,” proclaimed the headline for WCP’s full-page advertisement appearing in Life magazine during this time. (The above photo of a Herring-Curtiss plane in flight was featured in that advertisement.)

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on Arthur P. Warner’s pioneering 1909 purchase of a Herring-Curtiss plane is available at Aeronautics – August 1909

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