Have you seen the Opening Ceremony of the first Olympic Games in Latin America in Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro? Do you remember a man with a weird hat flying a balloon? Have you thought about who he is? He is one of the Brazilians the country is most proud of. The airplane inventor called Santos Dumont.
Excerpt from the message of Henrique Dumont, Santos Dumont’s father, when he emancipated his son at the age of 18:
“Today I’ve given you freedom; now I add this capital…I still have some years to live; I want to see how you manage; go to Paris, the most dangerous place for a young man. Let’s see if you become a grown man; I’d rather you didn’t become a doctor; in Paris, with the aid of our cousins, you will look for an expert in physics, chemistry, mechanics, electricity, etc.; study these subject and don’t forget that the future lies in mechanics. You don’t need to worry about earning a living. I’ll leave you enough for that…”
In 1897, Santos Dumont met Henry Lachambre and Alexis
“I shall never forget the genuine pleaser of my first balloon ride.”
It was a definite experience. Soon he learned how to control the equipment, and began experimenting with new models. Also in 1898, he showed Machuron the plans for the construction of his first spherical balloon. The Brazil, the smallest one built so far in that time, was an innovation: heavy taffeta was replaced with the varnished Japanese silk. Its wicker basket weighed only six kilos. Despite everyone’s disbelief, on July 4 the first ride took place, followed by several others.
From then on, Santos Dumont researched the drivability of balloons, systematically learning from each error, and improving each new prototype he built. His tenacity earned him the affection of the Parisians who called him “le pétit Santos”.
When we asked him, somewhat naively, the secret of flying balloons, he just answered:
“Getting up early.”
Then he added, consulting his watch:
“And going to bed late.”
“Aéronautis”, L’Aérophile, 1901 – page 207
The evolution of his inventions and flying adventures were accompanied by the city, until his triumph on November 4, 1901. On that day, he won a prize of 100,000 francs offered by the millionaire
The Controversial Deutsch Prize
Santos Dumont often had to cope with controversy. One of the most famous was concerning the dispute of the Deutsch Prize. On October 19, 1901, he reached the finish line in 29 minutes and 30 seconds: however, according to the speedometer reading, it had only reached full stop when landing – at 30 minutes and 30 seconds. Therefore some judges believed that Santos Dumont had lost the competition. An argument arose. Santos Dumont protested against the arbitrary result. The press, the people of Paris and Prince Roland Bonaparte, President of Scientific Commission that would judge the matter, were unanimous in supporting the Brazilian. The vote ended up being favorable to the inventor, but Santos Dumont kept his promise and gave up the money he had received. The Deutsch Prize was shared: he donated 50 thousand francs to his mechanic. The rest he allocated to the unemployed workers of Paris who could then, with this providential resource, claim their pawned tools, and go back to work.
From then on, he led the efforts of scientists and inventors from around the world to”conquer the air”. By 1906, he had built two spherical balloons and several dirigibles, introducing modifications to the propulsion mechanisms, until he reached the 14 Bis and, later the ultra-light Demoiselle.
A Brazilian Celebrity in Paris
One of the historical characters who followed Santos Dumont’s progress was Princess Isabel, who had been living in Paris since the proclamation of the Republic in 1889. On several occasions she, her husband and children visited him and watched his airline developments.
In August 1901, the Princess sent to the young compatriot a gold medal with the effigy of St. Benedict. The gentle gift, that Santos Dumont wore on his wrist ever
Santos Dumont’s trademarks became fashionable: hair parted down the middle, the floppy Panama hat – which in fact was burnt when he tried to smother the flames from an engine in a near-accident -, and the wristwatch, developed at his request by a friend, the
At a time when women played a submissive role in society, Santos Dumont demonstrated his modernity through his chosen loves and in his relationships standards. His girlfriends and female friends were always independent and intelligent women. On her own initiative, one of them, the Cuban, Aida d’Acosta, became the first female to fly an aircraft solo: after three lessons with Santos Dumont, on June 29, 1903, she took off at Neuilly-Sait-James station flying the Dirigible # 9, and astonished Paris by flying alone as far as Bagatelle.
“The heroine, a young and beautiful Cuban… had been to my station several times with her friends, and had expressed her ardent desire to fly.
I asked her: “Do you mean you would be courageous enough to be taken on a balloon ride without anyone holding the guide-rope? I am very grateful for your confidence, miss.”
“No!”, the young woman protested. “I do not want to be taken! I want to fly alone, to ride freely, as you do!”
Anésia Pinheiro Machado: a Brazilian is the Dean of Woman Flyers in the World
Anésia, as young as 17, was the first woman in the world to be acknowledged as a pilot and to actually work as an aviatrix. Among her great deeds, she took an intercontinental flight, linking the three Americas in 1951. She was also the first to cross the Andes on a single-engine plane, through the Paso do Aconcágua trading route, linking Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. In 1954, the International Aviation Federation (IAF) officially recognized her as the Dean of Woman Flyers in the World for holding the oldest and still valid license in the world.
Once the drivability of balloons had been overcome, aviators faced a new challenge: would it be possible to fly with security and control in a heavier-than-air aircraft? The Aero Club of France then set up a prize of 3,000 francs to anyone who could “take off unaided, fly more than 25 meters in the air, and land without accidents”. Santos Dumont got to work. He designed a bamboo structure reinforced with piano chords and covered with white silk. The first engine, with 24 HP, is replaced by a 50 HP one, connected to the stern propeller. This aircraft was different from everything he had built so far and was the result of long hours of study.
“I started by becoming a good balloon pilot and then addressed the problem of its drivability. I turned into a good Aeronaut in flying my dirigibles; for many years, I delved into the oil engine, and only when I checked it was perfectly fit for flying, did I deal with the heavier-than-air problem.” – In the air, Alberto Santos Dumont, page 196.
In July 1906 tests were carried out to check the new aircraft stability: it was hung by a long cable stretched between two poles, and pulled by a donkey. Later, the aircraft was hung on his last dirigible, the 14
Willing to compete for the award before a body of technicians that would grant him reliability, Santos Dumont summoned the aero technical commission for a demonstration. It was the 23 October 1906, and the venue was the Bagatelle field in the Bois de Boulogne. A crowd showed up. Then, before people’s astonished gee,
Who flew first: Alberto
In addition to this, the Wrights performed their experiments without witnesses, concerned with the maintenance of the industrial secret, unlike Santos Dumont who always tested his inventions publicly, and did not patent them, opening this knowledge to everyone. A contribution recognized by the North Americans themselves: in 1976, the International Astronomical Union gave Santos Dumont’s name to the lunar crater at the 27N5E coordinates, the spot where the Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon for the first time. A fair tribute to the Brazilian inventor who contributed so much to this achievement.
Demoiselle: an elegant “miss” soars upwards
In 1907, Santos Dumont created several new inventions. Among them, the ultra-light Number 19, the Demoiselle, where he installed another fundamental invention: the opposite cylinders engine. The Demoiselle was, according to Santos Dumont himself, his most popular plane. Its lightness and grace, along with its performance, enchanted everyone. In 1909, he broke another speed record: 90 km per hour – quite an accomplishment for that time.
During the first experiments, the Number 19 had an accident and was seriously damaged.
Santos Dumont got lost during a flight and landed the Demoiselle outside the Wideville Castle, where he was sheltered by the Countess,
Santos Dumont, always contributing to technological and scientific progress, released all plans and construction details. Soon, other inventors began to build similar planes, and the Demoiselle too became one of the first commercial successes in aviation. In 1910, it was sold to the young Frenchman, Roland Garros, who would become one of the aviation aces in World War I.
Brazil also owes Santos Dumont the possession of a natural treasure. In 1916, the Father of Aviation flew over Foz do Iguaçu, then a private property. He suggested that the Brazilian Government preserve this invaluable heritage for future generations. From his efforts emerged the current Iguaçu National Park.
At a time when no one spoke about such topics as sustainability and environmental preservation, Santos Dumont demonstrated once again his ability to gaze into the future.
Petrópolis, the Enchanted
From 1918 to his death in 1932, Santos Dumont chose Petropolis as his refuge. Here he meditated, read, and projected new inventions. It was also here where he wrote his second book “What I have seen, what we will see”, and tried to regain his health, damaged both by various air adventures (and accidents); and by the disappointment of having witnessed the world plunged into the horror of World War I. He would return here, after many international trips, to discuss the future of aviation with authorities and businessman.
Once in Petrópolis, he could easily enjoy the matches at the Tennis Club; go for a car or carriage ride; exchange ideas with friends, families and neighbors such as the Rocha Mirandas and the Franklin
The land on which the only house Santos Dumont made for himself throughout his life was purchased from the Rittmeyer family on April 18, 1918. The steep hillside, which seemed inappropriate for the building, could be seen from the window of the Palace Hotel (now the building of the Catholic University of Petropolis), where Santos Dumont stayed in 1917. There is, he imagined his “bird’s nest”: a cozy European-style chalet, like those he knew from his vacations in French resorts.
“I’ve bought a small piece of land here is Petropolis and I am going to build a small cottage.” – Letter to a friend, April 28, 1918.
To design the project, Santos Dumont invited a friend, who was then 30 years old; the engineer Eduardo Pederneiras. Supported by the architect Armando Telles and by
However, the future owner participated actively throughout the entire construction process. Always courteous, he “shaped” the house to suit his peculiar personality, through written notes or visits to the construction site, in which he would make improvements and give detailed suggestions. When the work was finished, customized furniture complemented this little masterpiece of functionality, which today is a living testimony of the creativity and inventiveness of its illustrious inhabitant.
Details That Make The Difference
The Enchanted is a forerunner of modern lofts. The high ceiling and the absence of internal partitions allowed the inclusion of a mezzanine that enlarges the useful area. At the base of the building, between the structural columns, the basement (today, the box office of the Santos Dumont’s House Museum) was transformed into a workshop and photography laboratory. With stone walls, coated with hydraulic tiles, and with a washbasin and counter, the access is through a door suitable for the sort stature of the resident.
At the entrance, the staircase steps are racket-shaped to “compensate” the steep slope and prevent the visitor from hitting their leg on the next step when climbing up. Interestingly, one can only start climbing with the right foot – a detail that, according to popular belief, demonstrates Santos Dumont’s superstition vein. That is not necessarily true, though; the staircase which connects the living room to the mezzanine is similar…and, in it, the climb begins with the left foot.
On the upper floor, the open multifunctional space turns into a living room, dining room, office, bedroom, and library. To the right of the main door fits in a hang-glider shaped table, so that the best advantage can be taken of the space. The house has no kitchen, because its owner opted to order all meals by phone from the hotel opposite or the Hotel Majestic: another modern feat. The narrow dining table near the window keeps the middle of the room free. An opening to the right allowed waiters to bring in the food in silver tableware to serve the inventor á la française, as manners demanded at that time.
The mezzanine is lit by windows opened in the mansard roof (an elevation between the two slopes of the roof). In this space,
The mezzanine also holds the famous inventor’s bathroom: a tiny room where the bathtub, commonly used then, was replaced by an interesting alcohol-powered shower. The mechanism, another of Santos Dumont’s inventions, consisted of a bucket with a pierced bottom, divided in half. One side kept the cold water. The other received the water heated by a small alcohol-powered reservoir, nailed to the wall. The water was mixed in the bucket and, to flush it down, one just had to pull a mechanism of strands.
One room was used as a bedroom at night, and as an office during the day. The bed is made with a cornered piece of furniture,
Behind the door that leads to the terrace, there is an open closet where his clothes and shoes were kept.
Santos Dumont had a housekeeper to take care of his Enchanted. Eulália de Avellar Rezende, who lived with her husband and two children in a small house in the flat part of the land, at the property. In the former Mrs. Eulália house, from 1937 to 1990, Petropolis City Hall housed a public school named Alberto
His Last Years
In 1910, medical orders forced Santos Dumont to abandon the aviation fields. Thereafter, he devoted himself to impart the aviation potential, seeing that the fast development of the airline industry already allowed a glimpse of how important it would become in the next decades.
Between 1915 and 1925, he
However, his successes couldn’t relieve him of his growing health problems. Between 1925 and 1927, he searched for a cure in resorts in Minas Gerais, and in health clinics in Switzerland. In 1928, he returned to Brazil, but a fatality takes place. On December 3, his ship moors at the Guanabara Bay, and in honor of the celebrated passenger, a plane named after him maneuvers in the air, while the crowd cheers aboard the ship and in the harbor. However, the plane crashed into the sea, killing important names of the Brazilian scientific scene.
The fact plunged him into a deep depression crisis, which his family unsuccessfully tried to end by sending him to a hospital in Araxá, Minas Gerais, and on trips to Guarujá, a beach in São Paulo. He was there when the 1932 Revolution breaks out. Appalled by the fratricide fight in his beloved country, Santos Dumont wrote a message to the Governor of São Paulo on July 14, calling for the cessation of hostilities. Nevertheless, the exhaustion and nervous breakdown broke him. On July 23, he committed suicide at the age of 59, at the Hotel de La Place, in Guarujá. On December 18, his body was taken to Rio de Janeiro, where he was buried three days later in São João Batista Cemetery, under a replica of the Saint-Cloud Icarus.
Brazilian Patriot and A Citizen of the World
Why is Santos Dumont so important to the conquest of the air?
By the end of the 19th century, technological advances had led us to the telegraph, the electric light, the subway, and photography. However, no one had been able to fly autonomously until then. Men had already risen to heaven in balloons, but they were tossed by the wind and forced to descend when they ran out of gas. A safe and controlled fight was still a fantasy pursued by scientist and adventures, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
In 1709, the Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão gave a demonstration at the Court of D. João V of a small hot air balloon. But the first ‘manned balloon flight’ only happened on September 19, 1783: Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, French brothers, built a paper airship – the Réveilion – and put a duck, a rooster, and a sheep in the air before the Court of Louis XVI. Then, on 21 November, the first flight flown by humans took place: Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis D’Arlandes flew for approximately 25 minutes.
At the end of the 18th century, the English chemist Henry Cavendish discovered hydrogen gas, starting the era of large balloons, capable of transporting people and cargo.
To fly: A Childhood Dream
Flying had been an obsession for Santos Dumont since childhood. Taught to read and write by this sister Virginia, seven years his senior, he became a voracious reader of Julio
Heart of the Inventor
The chest that holds Santos Dumont heart was taken to the Aerospace Museum of Rio de Janeiro on 24 October 1944, during the celebrations of the Aviation Week. The chest is a golden celestial sphere, with small holes symbolizing the stars in the universe, inside it, there is another crystal sphere, and in it, lies the inventor’s heart, unnerved in a suitable liquid. The sphere is held by a copper Icaro.
1873: He was born at Cabangu Farm, Minas Gerais, on 20th July, as Alberto
This is a guest post by Natalie Proskuryakova. Natalie kindly shared her extensive knowledge about Santos Dumont, who later lent his name to the domestic airport of the same name in Rio de Janeiro. We’re really happy to take this incredible dive into the history of this remarkable Brazilian inventor. Who knew what a fascinating life he had? Natalie currently lives in Rio de Janeiro and is a photographer. You can check out her work on her site which can be found here.
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