Joseph S. Barrera III
joe at barrera.org
Thu Dec 18 10:48:15 PST 2003
Gavin Thomas Nicol wrote:
> Richard Pearse beat them to it by 8 months, with a monoplane.
How can you fail to mention the Ezekiel Airship?
by Bob Bowman
In December of this year, America will mark the centennial of the Wright
brothers' airplane success at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina -- an
achievement regarded as the beginning of powered flight.
But if a Baptist preacher from Pittsburg in Camp County had been blessed
with a better press agent, the centennial might have been observed in
East Texas a year earlier.
In late 1902, at least a year before the Wright brothers soared into the
sky, an airplane designed by Rev. Burrell Cannon was flown 160 feet at
Pittsburg. But the event went largely unpublicized and it wasn't until
1976 that a state historical marker finally recognized Cannon¹s
A sawmiller and inventor, Cannon got his idea for the airship from the
Old Testament book of Ezekiel, which described a flying machine: "The
appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color of beryl
and...their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the
middle of a wheel."
Cannon designed his airship after studying the Biblical passage for
years, making extensive mechanical notes, and finally producing a design
around 1900. His plans featured a series of wheels, a 26-foot wingspan,
and a cluster of levers which would control the plane's flight. The
design looked more like a crude helicopter than a conventional airplane.
Cannon then convinced ten friends to invest $20,000 in his Ezekiel
Airship Manufacturing Company at $25 per share.
Built at P.W. Thorsell's foundry in Pittsburg, the plane was flown in
1902 by Gus Stamps, a foundry employee who worked on the contraption.
Stamps and his fellow workers rolled the plane into a pasture and
decided to try it out. It flew upward about ten feet and began to drift
toward a fence before Stamps killed the power to the four-cyclinder gas
Cannon, ironically, wasn't present. He was preaching at a nearby church.
When Cannon failed to arouse additional interest in his plane at
Pittsburg, he loaded it onto a railroad flatcar and started to St.
Louis, where the craft was to be exhibited. But a storm blew it from the
flatbed railcar near Texarkana, destroying the machine.
Cannon built a second airship around 1911 -- some eight years after the
Wrights' flight -- but it was also destroyed when a hired pilot flew it
into the top of a telephone pole during a test flight. The incident
caused Cannon to give up on his flying machine.
From 1914 to 1921, Cannon made his home in Longview and at the time of
his death in 1923, he lived in Marshall. Although he was 74, he was in
the midst of perfecting an automated cotton picker and boll weevil
destroyer. In 1922, a fire destroyed all of his plans for the Ezekiel
But Pittsburg, which apparently didn¹t think much of the old preacher's
invention in the early 1900s, has since embraced the history of the
In a downtown museum, visitors will find a full-sized replica of the
plane and a tribute to its inventor.
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