Automobile and Aeroplane Mechanical School offered training in flying,
driving, and repairing the new transportation machines. Felton was an
important African-American entrepreneur in the early 20th century
commercial and transportation history of southcentral Pennsylvania.
from Pennsylvania at Risk 1996
Contributed by Calobe Jackson, Jr., 12-12-11
Via email from Calobe Jackson, Jr., 6-18-05
I just found your site by goggling I have been researching William McDonald Felton, who owned an AeroPlane School and flying field in Harrisburg, Pa from 1919 to 1924. When Felton purchased his first airplane, Diehl flew it into Harrisburg. He landed on May 30, 1919. The local newspaper showed a picture of Diehl. My understanding is that Diehl worked for Felton as a flying instructor. Diehl is listed as living in Harrisburg in the 1920 Census.
Reading that Diehl left his papers to the Smithsonian, I am anxious to see if Felton is mentioned. Before Diehl some famous French pilot known as the Blue Devil, (Flanchaire), landed to visit Felton. The story goes that this Blue Devil mistakenly flew to Harrison burg, VA. by mistake and then flew to Harrisburg, Pa. Felton's ad of May 30, 1919 mentions this landing, but I have yet to find a newspaper article about it. Unfortunately Felton's AeroPlane School was torn down several years ago.
I would appreciate any information or sources that might contain additional information on Diehl and the French Blue Devil.
Thanks for any help
Calobe Jackson, Jr.
Editor's Note: If any of you can help Calobe in his search for more information on either Felton or Diehl, please contact him through me.
Via email from Calobe Jackson, Jr., 6-28-05
When Flanchaire landed in Pittsburgh, he was meet by LT Henri Farre, Lt. Max Bencis and Benjamin Thaw, father of William Thaw. Farre and Thaw are listed as Early Birds. Flanchaire was said to be first to fly from NY City to Pittsburgh and first to fly over Allegheny mountains. Bencis is said to be a veteran of air combat. Flanchaire is said to have downed a dozen planes.
Oral history states that Hubert Julian, an early black pilot, visited Felton's airfield, circa 1924. I have not found anything on this as yet, but I do have a picture of Julian in Harrisburg in the 1930's. William McDonald Felton may be nominated for a Pa. State Historical Marker. He appears to be one of the earliest African Americans to own airplanes and an airfield.( 1919-1926). I think the Air Commerce Act put him out of business.
This story began about ten years ago when, William Felton, Jr., gave me the details on his father's role in early aviation. Felton, Jr. was at the landing of Flanchaire, (1918), and William Diehl, (1919), in Harrisburg.. All of Felton's artifacts were lost. Felton, Jr died in 1996. I have a few leads on graduates of Felton's AeroPlane School. Hopefully the Internet will connect us and Felton will receive the credit he deserves. Felton died in 1930.
via email from Carla Felton, 12-11-11
I was interested to know if you may have any additional information pertaining to my Great Grandfather William McDonald Felton?
My Grandfather was his only son William Marion Felton, whose only son Carl Felton was my father.
Any information you may be able to provide would be greatly appreciated. I may be able to be of some assistance should you need additional information regarding my great grandfather.
Editor's Note: If you can help Carly with her search, please contact me.
Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs
By Rachel Kranz 2004
Felton, William McDonald
(ca 1876-1930) owner of flying school, automotive entrepreneur, theatre and club owner
In his time William McDonald Felton was the owner of the largest black-owned automobile business in New York when he owned the Auto Transportation and Sales Company, a combined auto dealership and repair shop that he opened in 1902 and expanded in 1910. At its peak, the business took up four floors of a seven-story building, giving employment to 15 people. Felton also owned clubs and theatres, as well as becoming the owner of the first black-owned school to teach airplane mechanics when he founded the Auto and Aeroplane Mechanical School in 1919.
Felton, the son of Sonnay Felton, was born in Marshallville, Georgia, sometime around 1876. Because poor records were kept about African Americans in those days, his exact birth date and year are unknown, and little is known about his early life. Sometime during the 1890’s, he became a watch repairer, working first in Marshallville, then migrating to New York City in 1898.
(1-26-12), you will find about 26 links.
"In 1923, William McDonald Felton opened the Auto and Aeroplane Mechanical School at 44 North Cameron Street in Harrisburg. In what were still early years for automobiles and airplanes, Felton offered "Practical Training in Flying, Driving and Repairing" these machines. With a business that included an airstrip at 14th and Sycamore Streets on the south side of town, Felton was an important African-American entrepreneur in the early 20th century commercial and transportation history of the area."
If you want to read the rest of this important article, you can access the page by clicking on the title. You can find the article by scrolling down to page 5 of this pdf file.
via email from Pete Jones, 2-27-11
If you have any more information on this pioneer aviator
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper