I believe it was with apprehension that Cal Rogers set his “Vin Fiz Flyer" down on the Cicero airfield on the Sunday afternoon of 8 October, 1911. 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 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 the mogul's newspapers. But Cal could not have known that W.R., as Mr. Hearst liked to be called, never had any 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 equivalent of $11,000 a month, today), it seemed he was destined for failure – well, as much as 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 his father George Hearst had won in a gambling debt. 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 comic strips equals sales. The first of the Sunday comics printed in color was Hearst's “The Yellow Kid” (above). 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 with ink.
When daddy George Hearst, died in 1891, W.R. convinced his mother to sell off the mining properties on which the family fortune had been built. He used the cash influx to finance his acquisition of the “New York Morning Journal”, where W.R. repeated his "Examiner's" recipe of success - which he had learned, by the way, during a summer internship under Joseph Pulitzer. It makes journalism's "Pulitzer Prize" seem like a mea culpa, doesn't it? And then W.R. began to buy newspapers, eventually 42 of them, with 30 million plus readers. Now he could syndicate his well paid writers and increase his advertising revenues, which he used to promote and publicize his runs for congress, and as governor and mayor of N.Y.C. He failed to win any of those elections. But everything W.R. did (like Donald Trump) was ultimately to promote and publicize himself, including the Hearst Prize for the coast to coast air race.
W.R. was awarded a medal from the Aeronautical Society of America for just offering the prize. And W.R. loved to get medals. But paying out the prize money would sell W.R.'s newspapers for one day only. And that was why the Hearst Prize had contained a time limit. It was set to expire on 17 October, 1911, before Hearst figured anybody could make it. So, 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. So with just a week left before the deadline, he decided to force W.R's hand. On Tuesday, 10 October, Cal flew across the flat lands to Springfield, Illinois, then on to Marshall, Missouri. As he arrived in Marshall, far away from any cities fed by Hearst newspapers, Cal found a telegram from Hearst waiting for him. There would be no extension in the time limit. Cal had now flown 1,398 miles since leaving New York, which gave him the record for longest flight. But there would be no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, just a bottle of Vin Fiz - yuck.
A more mercenary element now influenced Cal’s romantic quest. When the city of St. Louis and its popular Hearst newspaper, withdrew its offer of a thousand dollars for landing there, Cal simply bypassed the town. Instead he flew on to Kansas City, landing in Swope Park.
Experience was forcing Cal to learn how to handle the money side of the race, as well as how to handle his plane. His decided to turn south, to avoid taking the Rocky Mountains head on, and to also avoid Denver and its Hearst newspaper. There were far fewer trees to run into on the Great Plains, which reduced certain dramatic elements in Cal’s landings and take offs. He was also making better time. There were fewer crashes and fewer late night repairs. Everybody on the crew was getting more sleep. And at about 9 a.m., on Thursday 19 October, 1911 the “Vin Fiz Flyer” crossed the Red River into Texas.
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