John B. R. Verplanck,

     JOHN BAYARD RODGERS VERPLANCK first viewed the historic Husdon the morning of October 8, 1881, from the old farm at Stony Kill in the town of Fishkill, N. Y.
     .As a boy he went to the red school house. There followed DeGarmo Institute, 1891-4; Cornwall Heights School, 1894-8; Columbia Hitchkiss, 1898-1900; Columbia (B.A.), 1904; N. Y. Coll. of Agri., Cornell; N. J. Coll. of Agri., Rutgers, 1908, and the Curtiss Aviation School, Hammondsport, N. Y. 1913
     He became interested in aeronautics when he saw Glenn Curtiss fly down the Hudson, May 29, 1910, and at age 32, in March of 1913, he was at Hammondsport learning to fly a Curtiss flying boat under the tutelage of "Doc" Wildman.
     He was the crew in his flying boat which Beckwith Havens piloted to victory in Percy Noel's Great Lakes cruise of July 8-18, 1913, from Chicago to Detroit. At their arrival at Detroit they were escorted in by William E. Scripps in his Burgess seplane and received the Aero Club of Michigan silver challenge trophy for the best elapsed time. Their's was the only plane to finish the course.
     Verplanck let the tour here but joined Havens again when the latter reached Albany. Both Havens and Verplanck received the Aero Club Medal of Merit for the outstanding flight of the year and the Curtiss gold medal for "the first long distance cruise on a flying boat."
     On Oct. 7, 19113, Verplanck and Havens flew from Albany to Oakwood Heights, Staten Island, N. Y., with a stop at Chelsea, N. Y., 148.5 miles in 2:45:00. On the 16th a return was made to Fishkill, some 64 miles---the first plane to fly UP the Hudson. At Chelsea Verplanck officially soloed, October, 1913. While at Chelsea Verplanck and Havens used the flying boat to make one of the first movies to show aircraft---"The Adventurer." Some time in 1915 he got around to qualifying for the Aero Club FAI seaplane certificate #35, after joining the club on October 15, 1913.
     In the years 1913-1916 he flew for pleasure up and down the Hudson and on Long Island Sound.
     In February 1917, he recruited the First Aeronautic Dividision, 4th Battalion, Naval Militia of New York and was its C. O. He was later commissioned Ensign in the Navy. After World War I he organized "Verplanck Flyers" who operated 1919-1920 under his presidency, carrying passengers. There was then made the first department store delivery by plane from New York along the Sound.
     In the following years he devoted himself to the management of Stony Kill Farms, 1907-1941 and to banking, from 1920.
     After 11 years as president, in 1946 he became chairman of the board of the Fishkill National Bank and still remains in that capacity, "partially retired."
     In 1942 he and his brother, James DeLancey Verplanck gave Stony Kill Farms to the State of New York to be operated by the Education Department as a test and practice farm by the N. Y. School of Agriculture.
     In 1941 he was the donor, with his brother, of the "Verplanck Room," an 18th Century drawing room, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
     He is Past President of the Veterans Association of the 4th Battalion, N.M., N. Y., and 1941-1945 was member of the Dutchess County Defence War Council. He has been president of the Howland Libray, Beacon, N. Y., 1918 to date. Societies: Holland Society of New York, American Rose Soc., Hon. member U. S. Power Squadron-mid-Hudson, Fellow in Perpetuity Nat. Mus. of Art, N. Y.., Hon. member Chelsea Yacht Club.
courtesy of Steve Remington - CollectAir


Not until 1913 was sufficient interest aroused in the United States to warrant a contest for water craft. Under the auspices of Aero & Hydro , a Great Lakes "Reliability Cruise" was organized for the week of July 8--the course to follow the shoreline from Chicago to Detroit via the Straits of Mackinac. It was heralded as the biggest competitive aerial event of the year.
Most of the pilots who had taken up the practice of flying over water were on the entry list - a total of fifteen names. John B. R. Verplanck, an affluent sportsman from the Hudson River Valley, and his seasoned pilot, Beckwith Havens, entered a Curtiss flying boat with a 90-hp Curtiss motor, as did Charles C. Witmer, Jack Vilas, G.M. Hecksher, and Navy Lieutenant John H. Towers, Antony Jannus, Hugh Robinson, and Tom Benoist entered Benoist flying boats, each with a Hall-Scott motor of 100 hp. Walter E. Johnson, who had worked as a mechanic for Glenn Curtiss, enlisted himself as the pilot of a Thomas brothers flying boat specially desgned for the contest; with a 65-hp Kirkham motor, it was the first aircraft with an all-metal hull in the United States. Glenn Martin entered his tractor hydro with 90-hp Curtiss motor. Although labeled a "queer craft" by the Los Angeles Examiner, it had carried three passengers in California without trouble, and was headed for altitude records. Others on the original list were Max Lillie (the first to receive an "expert aviator's certificate" from the Aero Club of America), piloting a Walco monoplane flying boat with 70-hp Sturtevant motor; DeLloyd Thompson, flying a Walco biplane model with 50-hp Gnome; Roy Francis,with a Paterson tractor hydro powered by an 80-hp Hall-Scott; Weldon B. Cooke, with his Cooke flying boat fitted with 75-hp Roberts motor; and Frank Harriman, also with a flying boat and engine of his own make.
     When the day of the race dawned---one of the stormiest in years on Lake Michigan---the list had appreciably shortened. Only five flyers actually managed a start from the Chicago lakefront either that morning or the next; Johnson, Jannus, Havens, Martin, and Francis---and only one, Havens, reached the first control point at Michigan City. Johnson, vainly fighting the weather, put in at Robertsdale, Indiana, only a short distance out of Chicago---while lifeboats searched for him until word came of his safety. From Michigan City to the control points at Muskegon (45 miles) and Pentwater (81 miles) beyond, the pilots had difficulty with rough water, balky engines, and broken propellers---the last a common complaint caused by damage from spray. Such obstacles slowed progress and kept public interest at a minimum. Holes were knocked in floats, and wind and high seas continued to harass the contestants ---till, on the seventh day, only the team of Havens and Verplanck could be said to have made a creditable showing. Alone on July 14, they flew the distance of 138 miles between Pentwater and Charlevoix, in 2 hours 25 minutes at an average speed of 780 m/hr. On July 15 the race ended in recriminations---a fiasco as far as "reliability" was concerned. In view of the unexpectedly poor showing, the committee was reluctant to pay out prize money, while the prospect of flying without reward was not pleasing to the competitors. Verplanck and Havens finished in Detroit on July 18 and decided to prolong their Great Lakes excursion, giving exhibitions here and there; Martin announced that he, too, would exhibit independently; but Francis felt it was time to dismantle his machine and ship it home. All the others had given up. It was not a heartening experience for proponents of the hydroaeroplane in the United States---especially as the Schneider cup race at Monaco had just laid the foundation for record-breaking performances over water.
     Americans could, however, take satisfaction in the fact that Glenn Curtiss had given the world the first flying boat---the development of which was one of the leading features of aviation in the last year before World War I.

John B. R. Verplanck, died in 1955
From The Early Birds of Aviation
Roster, 1996

  Recommended Books for Further Reading:
The Story of the Early Birds
by Henry Serrano Villard
Thomas Y. Crowell Company

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