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1956 - 2022, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Reminiscences of a Birdman
by Robert D. Campbell

Publisher: Living History Press

P.O. Box 602, Uxbridge, MA 01569-1415

Web Site:
Binding:  Hardbound Height:




Pages:  432 No. Photos:

Few people recognize the name of Earle Lewis Ovington as an American pioneer aviator and inventor. A reference check is likely to identify him as the first official United States Airmail pilot on September 23, 1911. However, his contributions to early aviation history, X-ray technology and the use of high frequency currents for medical use deserve wider recognition.

Earle Ovington was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed a comfortable youth. When a recession reduced the family fortunes, he left school with the intent to become an electrical engineer. He started as a messenger boy at the Edison plant in New York for no pay in exchange for learning the electrical trade. Thus he worked for Thomas Edison as an early experimenter in X-ray technology. Recognizing the need for more education, he entered M.I.T. in the fall of 1900.

His earlier association with Edison led him to become a patent-holding inventor and educator of physicians in the use of his electro-therapeutic devices. Unfortunately, his ‘trusted’ associates pirated his patents and successful business. Rather than litigating, he moved on to the motorcycle industry and motorcycle racing. Glenn Curtiss was also in this field and their association led to Ovington’s interest in aviation.

With virtually no aviation training schools in the United States, Ovington went to France to earn a pilot’s license. Europe was also the place where airplane exhibitions and races were more common than in the United States. After learning as much as he could there, Earle Ovington returned home with a new Bleriot airplane to participate in the 1911 season of flying exhibitions and races with such aviation pioneers as Tom Sopwith, Eugene Ely, Lincoln Beachey and Harry Atwood. His exposure in these races led to his appointment as the first United States Air Mail Carrier.

Subsequently, Ovington dedicated his efforts to promoting aviation safety and commercial aviation (the many crashes thrilled crowds but did not engender confidence in commercial flights). He built the Ovington Air Terminal in Santa Barbara, Calif., first airfield.

WWI saw him become a Lieutenant Commander in the Aviation Division of the Naval Reserve. He also was president of the Sandy Point Shipbuilding Company making transport steamers for the United States Shipping Board. His association with Glenn Curtiss led him to building hydro aeroplanes for the U.S. Navy and he thus became president of the Curtiss Flying Station in Atlantic City.

After WWI, Ovington turned his attention to developing real estate; building luxury homes in Santa Barbara. He patented an innovative home heating system and also was one of the first developers to bury utilities underground. His home became a meeting place of the rich and famous. Among the many were: Charles Lindbergh, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, Jack Northrop and actor Wallace Beery.

Perhaps Earle Ovington is not better remembered as an aviation pioneer because of his achievements in fields other than early aviation. Nevertheless, Earle Lewis Ovington is an American who deserves to be recognized in the annals of American aviation. The carefully researched material presented in the 432 pages of this book helps to correct that deficiency.

This is a larger format book of considerable weight. Its 9x10 3/4-inch page format permits a double column text and generous use of clear photographs. The author has carefully copied many rare 19th century and early 20th century glass plates and other photographic media into digital form. By the use of heavy stock and strong binding, this book reproduces those hundreds of photographs and associated memorabilia in prime form. This treatment results in a special format but not in a book that would be taken to the beach.

Recommended reading for those who want to expand their knowledge of early aviation and also retain an excellent photographic record of that era.

Adrian Ryneveld