From Bikes to Biplanes

While he may not be a household name, pioneering aviator and aeroplane manufacturer Glenn Curtiss' contributions to aviation were enormously significant – as Kathleen Hanser reveals

Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss at the pilot's wheel of one of his biplanes 
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Many aviation enthusiasts know of the Curtiss JN-4D ‘Jenny’. Not only was it one of the most famous American biplanes before, during and after World War One, it was used to train more than 90% of US and Canadian military pilots at that time. While the British similarly employed the type, others were used in different roles, including reconnaissance, bomber and fighter. With more than 7,000 examples rolling off the production line, the Jenny became the backbone of civil aviation in the US at the end of hostilities in 1918. Sold to barnstormers for as little as US$50 – around $900 today – thousands of surplus airframes flew around the country performing aerial stunts and giving many their first taste of flight. The Jenny went on to become the first regular airmail carrier and was used to transport cargo, as well as surveying for the likes of the US Forest Service.

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