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 
Ezekiel Airship.

In a downtown museum, visitors will find a full-sized replica of the 
plane and a tribute to its inventor.

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