A few months back I mentioned Missouri farmer Frederick Hoenemann, who in
1919 had a Kansas City court temporarily prohibit airplanes from flying
over his farm. It's easy enough to look back and say, what was he thinking?
Did he really expect to change the progress of aviation? Well, as it turns
out, the farmer and the courts of the Show Me state did have a precedent.
I came across the story in a collection of the late Gene M. Burnett's monthly
Florida Trend magazine columns. What follows is my version of a column on
Kissimmee, Florida's Airplane Law.
Now a satellite of theme-park crowded Orlando, in 1908 Kissimmee was a small,
sleepy, cattle town. Airplanes were about as rare as igloos. The entire
state of Florida wouldn't see a flying machine for another two years. City
attorney P. A. Vans Agnew was apparently a man with far too much time on
his hands. Feeling a bit whimsical one day, he casually mentioned to mayor
T. M. Murphy that he'd seen airplanes on a recent visit to Paris, France,
and was wondering if they might someday become more numerious and, perhaps,
cause problems for cities everywhere. Maybe Kissimmee should attempt to
regulate the devices.
Murphy mulled it over. Murphy took action. The Kissimmee Valley Gazette
soon sported the headline, MAYOR TAKES TIME BY FORELOCK. The newspaper went
on to report that the town's newest ordinance would, "serve as a model
to cities 'throughout the civilized world'" and benefit "generations
as yet unborn." The town would take control over its airspace, a rather
futuristic concept, to a height of two miles. A permit was required to house
a plane in town. License fees were to be charged - $50 for a dirigible,
$100 for an airplane, and twice that for a ornithopter. Machines flying
between 10 and 20 feet off the ground would have to keep their speed under
eight miles an hour. If you got up over a thousand feet you could do 200
mph.The proper bells, whistles, horns (the a-oo-gah type, perhaps), brakes"
and other safety apparatus were required. And the marshall would be provided
with his own plane to enforce the laws.
The townspeople read the article. And burst out laughing, finding the whole
idea a real knee-slapper. It got so bad that the red-faced mayor even considered
leaving town for a while. Then the letters began coming in. All over the
U. S. and Europe, municipalities wanted copies of the ordinance. Germany
and France studied it and used it as a model for their own legislation.
The War Department wrote for a copy. Lauditory articles and editorials flowed.
Cities on both sides of the Atlantic adopted the ordinance. Murphy and Vans
Agnew became sagacious, far-seeing statesmen. In the end however, the Kissimmee
City Council dropped the ball. I quote Burnett. "Somehow, it just never
got around to actually passing the law."
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
EAGLES BYTE HOME PAGE