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Eric Shackle Writes: Wonderful 1844 Steam-Powered Flying Machine

Back in 1844, almost 60 years before the Wright Brothers' historic first flight, W.H.Phillips, of London, claimed to have invented a steam-powered aerial machine that would carry 10 to 12 passengers 1000 miles in 10 hours. Eric Shackle tells of astonishing early-day plans to conquer the air.

Eric is one of the world's leading explorers of the highways and byways of the Internet. Visit his famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle where you will find a huge collection of fascinating articles.

The amazing development of a steam-powered flying machine in 1844 was described in an article published in a Sydney newspaper with a small circulation and a long sub-title:

The newspaper was "printed and published at the Observer office, College street (formerly called Jamison-street) by the proprietors, R. FARR & R. KITCHEN.

There we found a remarkable but verbose story. Here it is, copied word for word (the first paragraph contains 96):

THE AERODIPHROS AND AERIAL COURIER COMPANY. - A prospectus is now fairly before the public for the formation of a company for navigating the air, the projector of which is Mr. W.H.Phillips of Bloomsbury square, who is also the patentee of an aerial machine, which he calls the "Aerodiphros," and which machine he states is capable of being made to carry from ten to twelve persons or an equivalent weight of luggage, propelled by steam power, and the average speed to travel is 100 miles per hour, and which can be much increased if necessary.

It is stated in the prospectus that the patentee has determined the capabilities of his machine by actual experiment; if so, he is, at all events, in the field before Mr. Henson, and we doubt not he is prepared to enter into such a speculation of the practicability of his scheme.

The nominal capital of the company is to be 500,000, in 5000 shares of 100 each - 2500 shares to be appropriated to the public, and the remaining 2500 shares to be the property of the inventor.

A deposit of 1 per share is to be paid at the time of application - 1 ten days after the exhibition of the first model - 3 ten days after the first performance as of experimental trip with the second model - and 5 per share ten days after the completion of the first grand carriage, capable of carrying ten or twelve persons for a voyage of 1000 miles.

Persons joining the company are not obliged to continue, but can, at any time retire, by the forfeiture of the deposit, or any instalments which may have been paid.

We understand that the day for the public exhibition of the first model, and its ascent, will be fixed very shortly, as the encouragement given by the public is such as to ensure the success of the company.
--- Mining Journal.

The Sydney newspaper had copied the story from the esteemed London publication The Mining Journal, which was founded in 1835 and is still going strong. It also has a website, so we sent an email to its web editor, Simon Jessop, telling him how we had discovered the article in an 1844 copy of The Colonial Observer.

"It sounds just the sort of thing for the All Our Yesterdays slot," he replied. (The website displays a story from its comprehensive archives every day).

If The Mining Journal reprints its 1844 story, then Mr. Phillips's wonderful steam-powered flying machine will, at least metaphorically, have flown back from Sydney to London with a speed even its inventor would never have dreamed of.


W.H.Phillips was not the first person to dream of harnessing steam to power an aircraft. Two years earlier, an English engineer, William Samuel Henson, helped by John Stringfellow, an experienced designer and maker of light steam engines, designed ARIEL, the Henson Aerial Steam Carriage, a passenger-carrying monoplane with a 150-feet wingspan.

Henson's grand idea was even discussed in the House of Commons, which, amid gales of laughter, rejected a motion to form an Aerial Transport Company. Members scoffed at the very idea of a steam-powered flying carriage ever taking off.

In 1843, the Aerial Transit Company's spin-doctor, Frederick Marriott, displayed imaginative prints showing the ARIEL soaring over the Egyptian Pyramids and flying over India, London and other places. He also prepared the pamphlet shown at the top of this story. (Both images reproduced by courtesy Carroll Gray).

Sadly, Henson's dream was never realised. In 1848 the frustrated inventor, with his wife, Sarah, emigated to the US, settling in Newark, New Jersey.

The Colonial Observer http://www.nla.gov.au/ferguson/1327662X/18441219/00030038/1-8.pdf
Mining Journal (UK) http://www.mining-journal.com/About.aspx
William Samuel Henson http://www.flyingmachines.org/hens.html
John Stringfellow http://www.flyingmachines.org/strng.html
The first airplanes http://www.first-to-fly.com/History/History%20of%20Airplane/firstair.htm


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