JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Sunday, April 04, 2010


I believe it was with apprehension that Cal Rogers set his “Vin Fiz” down in Cicero airfield on the afternoon of October 8th, 1911, rather than with a sense of accomplishment. Cal was now officially 21 days out of New York City. He had flown just 1/3 of the distance to California. He had crashed (using a most generous definition of the term) six times, or about once every 166 miles. At this rate he had to assume he would crash another six times before he reached the foot of the Rockies at Denver, Colorado. And he would either be spending Christmas somewhere in Utah, or dead. The Pony Express was proving faster than the" Vin Fiz Flyer". Upon landing in Chicago Cal immediately telegraphed William Randolph Hearst to request an extension of the time limit for the $50,000 prize offered by his newspapers. But Cal could not have known that W.R., as Mr. Hearst liked to be called, had no intention of letting anybody actually win the prize money.
Like most self described “self made” millionaires (such as Donald Trump), William Randolph Hearst was the son of a millionaire. When W.R. was kicked out of Harvard, where the boy had struggled to survive on a $500 a month allowance (the equivalence of $11,000 a month today), it seemed he was destined for failure – well, as only the pampered only son of a millionaire could fail, because the only thing bigger than the fortune which W.R. would eventually gain control of, was his ego.
In 1887 W.R. took over the “San Francisco Examiner”, which Daddy had won in a gambling bet. W.R. then sank part of daddies’ fortune into making it the “Monarch of the Dailies”. He hired the best writers and editors that daddies’ money could buy, (such as Mark Twain and later Harriet Quimby) and built a publishing edifice based on the formula of sex plus rumor plus jingoism plus comic strips equals sales. The first of the Sunday comics printed in color was “The Yellow Kid”; thus the origin of the description of W.R.'s style of newspaper as “yellow journalism”. And what was yellow journalism? A. J. Pegler, a Hearst writer, described it this way: “A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” Think, Fox News.
When daddy, George Hearstn, died in 1891, W.R. convinced his mother to sell off the mining properties on which the family fortune had been built, to finance his acquisition of the “New York Morning Journal”, where W.R. repeated his recipe of success - which he had learned, by the way, during a summer internship under Joseph Pulitzer. It makes journalisms "Pulitzer Prize" seem like a mea culpa, doesn't it?  And then W.R. began to buy newspapers and magazines, (eventually 42 newspapers with 30 million plus readers) where he could syndicate his well paid writers and increase his advertising revenues, which he used to promote and publicize his runs for congress (two terms) and as governor and mayor of N.Y.C. (three tries and no wins). Everything W.R. did was ultimately to promote and publicize W.R., including the Hearst Prize.
W.R.’s interest in flying was typically mercenary. When his editors had approached him with the idea of offering a $50,000 prize for the first transcontinental flight, experts like Glenn Curtiss and Wilbur Wright, warned  that aviation was too young to achieve such a lofty goal, which piqued W.R. interest. In 1910, when the prize was originally offered, no plane could stay airborne longer than two hours at a time, and none could travel faster than fifty miles an hour. Airplanes were still made out of wood and wire, for crying out loud. But, on the plus side, offering the prize would fill his newspapers day after day, with articles about how it could it be done, who could do it, who didn’t think it could be done, and how many would die trying to do it.
And speaking of publicity, W.R. was awarded a medal from the Aeronautical Society of America for even offering the prize. And W.R. loved to get medals. On the negative side; here's what paying the prize would buy W.R.' selling papers for one day only. And that was why the Hearst Prize had contained a time limit in the first place. The prize was set to expire on October 17, 1911. And when Cal Rogers’ telegram arrived begging for an extension, W.R. was in no rush to respond. Cal waited in Chicago for two days for the telegram from Hearst, and he began to suspect he had been had. Then, on October 10th he flew across the flatlands to Springfield, Illinois, then on to Marshall, Missouri. As he arrived in Marshall, far away from any Hearst newspapers, Cal found a telegram from Hearst waiting for him, letting him know there would be no extension. Cal had now flown 1,398 miles since leaving New York, which gave him the record for longest continuous flight. But there would be no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, just a bottle of Vin Fiz - yuck.
A mercenary element now influenced Cal’s romantic quest. When the city of St. Louis withdrew its offer of a thousand dollars for landing there, Cal sinply bypassed the town, and its Hearst newspaper. Instead he flew on to Kansas City, landing in Swope Park.
Experience was teaching Cal how to handle his plane. His decision to turn south, to avoid taking on the  Rocky Mountains head on, indicated how much he had already learned. There were far fewer trees to run into on the Great Plains, which reduced certain dramatic elements in Cal’s journey, and also increased his average speed. There were fewer crashes, fewer late night repairs; everbody on the crew was happy. About 9 A.M. on October 19, 1911 the “Vin Fiz Flyer” crossed the Red River into Texas.
And on that same day, the race that was no longer a race, became a again.
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1 comment:

  1. It's Cal Rodgers, not Rogers. Cal was on the ground in Chicago 4 hours and 5 minutes, not 2 days. The request for an extension was not isued by Cal but by Stewart deKrafft, and not to Hearst, but to the Hearst committee. Many, many more errors.
    See "Flight of the Vin Fiz" by E.P. Stein (Arbor House).


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