John J. Montgomery
John J. Montgomery
Repository: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

John J. Montgomery
John J. Montgomery
Montgomery and His Nineteenth Century Glider
from CHIRP June, 1937 Number 20
by Ron Carmichael
1858 Montgomery was born in Marysville, California and saw Frederick Marriott's exhibition flight of his steam powered "Avitor", the first powered flying machine (with semi-dirigible lifting) 1869 in Marysville, CA and made a toy replica.
     Aside: A full scale model of this machine is in the Hiller Aviation Museum at the San Carlos Airport, San Carlos, CA.
     Montgomery made early models and studied birds in flight. He studied Physics at St., Ignatius College, San Francisco (B.Sc. in 1879 and M.Sc. in 1880). He joined family near Otay Mesa, CA, set up a lab and constructed his first airplanes with the aid of his sister, Jane E. Montgomery. He captured small and large birds to study wing warping.
1883: Flew in his gull winged aeroplane on August 28 for the first controlled airborne flight of man in heavier-than-air craft.
1893: Attended Aeronautical Congress, Conference on Aerial Navigation, August 1-4, Columbia World's Fair,Chicago. Met Octave Chanute who arranged for him to read his paper on Soaring Flight. Chanute corresponded with Wright Bros. and visited them later on.
1896-1904: Experimented with larger 4 and 8 foot wingspread models. Built a wind tunnel and tested degrees of parabolic wing curve and length, for and aft, rudder and rear stabilizer control, etc. Awarded Ph.D., Santa Clara College in 1901.Worked part time in Univ. Labs on Rev. R.H. Bell, S.J.'s reproduction and improvements on the Marconi Wireless - improvements admired by Marconi at visit in 1933.
1904-Hired and trained aeronaut, Daniel John Maloney to handle the two full scale aeroplanes completed in the autumn of 1903.
1905-Directed Maloney in balloon lift of planes to heights of 800 to 4000 feet. Cut loose and maneuvered for miles in air, banking, rising, turning at ease and landing safely on successful flights of March 16, 17 and 20 at Leonard's ranch, Aptos, California. Great flight April 29 when the aeroplane, Santa Clara was taken aloft before many invited newspapermen from San Francisco Bay area. Maloney cut loose at 4000 feet and maneuvered for 15-20 minutes to descend gracefully landing just southeast of the College Campus. A full scale model of this aircraft is on display at the Hiller Museum along with other of Montgomery'sairplanes. Many photos accompany the exhibit.
1906-U.S. Patent Office issued Patent No. 831,173 to Montgomery "For Improvement In Aeroplanes."
1911-Built camp at Evergreen, south of San Jose, to resume gliding experiments which were witnessed by many. On October 31, Montgomery made a slight alteration in control pattern. The plane pulled up sharply off rails and side-slipped 13 feet barely bruising the right wing. A protruding stove-bolt penetrated Montgomery's brain behind his ear, killing him.This freak accident in no way detracts from the substantial contribution Montgomery made to flight - especially considering he demonstrated how flight could be controlled at a very early time and by having his plane flown to altitudes of 4000 feet in 1905. A street and theatre are named for Montgomery in Santa Clara/Silicon Valley. I am sure that Montgomery Field in San Diego is also named for his contributions. His early aeroplane materials are stored at the Smithsonian - although I have tried to find out why they are not displayed for the public to recognize his amazing work!
     It is noteworthy that the Wright Bros. Patent specifically refers to their use of "flat" wings whereas Montgomery's patent expressly mentions his "parabolically" curved wings, now referred to as cambered wings. The Wright airplanes built by the U.S. Gov't. had cambered wing surfaces. Montgomery failed to win his patent dispute in court, but this in no way invalidates his scientific approach to theoretical and practical aeronautics. He flew successfully and without any damage to a gentle landing in 1883 and many times later.His last aircraft had the tail in the rear not the front - a harbinger of most modern aircraft of today!
Hope his helps,
Ron Carmichael

September, 1911
Collection of Ernie Sansome
     Professor John J. Montgomery, of Santa Clara College, and who may well be termed the Dean of Aviation in this country, is to inaugurate a class in aeronautics at the above college. Judging from the reputation of Professor Montgomery in this science and the way young America has taken it up, there will be a large waiting list for enrollment.

     If you search for "John J. Montgomery", using the Google search engine, (2-25-08), you will find about 2,620 links! Among the most helpful are the following.

First Heavier than Air, Controllable Flight
     You will find Mary Ann Henderson's painting of the balloon and glider, along with a nice little story of his flight, by clicking on the title.

You will find a comprehensive story of
John J. Montgomery and his gliders
on this Smithsonian National Air and Space website.
To visit the site, just click on:




John J. Montgomery

Email from Jim Montgomery, (9-02-01)

I have a small book entitled Aeropagitica by John Milton, reprinted in 1868.
I bought the book in a used bookstore in Oakland, California in about 1965.
Inside is signed "J. Montgomery October 3rd, 1879". I was wondering if
there are any photo copies of John J. Montgomery's signature for comparison?
It would be quite exciting to discover that John J. Montgomery once owned
this book.
Jim Montgomery

by the late
former Archivist at the University,

This book is replete with details on the life and work of John Montgomery.
Ron Carmichael

via email from Wayne Dugan,
Hello Ralph:
     Perhaps you know about the movie "Gallant Journey", starring the late Glenn Ford, I saw the movie when it was first released in 1946. The movie was a very loose interpretation of John J. Montgomery's life as he experimented with gliders. In the movie Mr. Montgomery died just prior to installing a gasoline engine in his glider. He was supposed to have suffered from vertigo and crashed the day before he was to install the engine.
      I thought it was a good movie at the time, (I was 11 years old) and never saw it again. Last year I bought a VCR tape of the movie on E-Bay. The tape was very poor quality, but it was good to see it again.
      Thank you for the great information, I enjoyed it very much. I am always interested in aviation history.
Wayne Dugan


Sun. Aug. 5, 1962
John J. Montgomery
Wing Dedication
To Honor Pioneer
     San Diego, known in many areas of the world as the cradle of aviation, today will honor the memory of a man who made a historic plane flight from the Otay Mesa in August 1883
     Tribute will be paid to John J. Montgomery, the San Diego farm boy who built a glider and flew it 600 feet.
     Fly-overs by modern and antique planes, music by a Navy band, and commemorative speeches will be included in the program to start at 2 p.m. at the memorial statue to Montgomery, located on a hillside between Alternate U.S. 101 and Beyer Road, south of Otay.
Winged Monument

     The memorial is a tall "Silver Wing," reminiscent of the glider flight.
     Visitors to the program also will see a replica of the Montgomery glider now owned by the John J. Montgomery Aerospace Museum in San Diego.

Historical Landmarks of San Diego County
NUMBER 711 * MONTGOMERY MEMORIAL At Otay Mesa, in 1883, John Joseph Montgomery made the first flight in a heavier-than-air craft 20 years before the Wrights. Montgomery made many more glider flights before accepting a professorship at Santa Clara College, where he continued his interest in aviation.
Location: Montgomery-Walker Park, NE corner of Coronado Ave and Beyer Blvd, South San Diego.
from Historical Landmarks of San Diego County
compiled by James Mills
San Diego Historical Society

       Montgomery worked on his family farm to save enough money to finance his way through two years of study at Santa Clara University. He returned to San Diego in 1883, built the plane, and on Aug. 7 drifted off the hillside into the wild blue yonder.
     It was, said a spokesman for the Aerospace Museum, a historic controlled winged flight. It may have been the first of its type, he added.
     Planes from National City Squadron 83, Civil Air Patrol, and others dating back to World War I from the Antique Airplane Association will pass over during a wreath-placing ceremony.
     One CAP member, Master Sgt. James McDonald of Squadron 97, plans to parachute from plane overhead to the memorial site, if the Federal Aviation Agency gives its approval.
     The program is to be sponsored by the San Ysidro Business and Professional Women's Club. Assisting in the event is the Aerospace Museum and the aviation committee of the San Diego Junior Chamber of Commerce.
     Speakers will include Don Driese, aviation historian; James Spurgeon; William Brotherton; Dr. Frank Lowe of the San Diego Board of Education; Preston M. Fleet, president of the museum; Les Earnest, director of the city parks and recreation and others.
     Ray Blair of General Dynamics-Astronautics will be master of ceremonies, and the Rev. Tullio Andreatta of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in San Ysidro will give the invocation.
     Other Boy Scout aviation and women's groups will participate in the program.
Clipping from collection of Lester Bishop
Courtesy of David Balanky

     You will find a brief summary of John's life and career on this unique website. In addition, you will find several pictures of his grave marker and the cemetery as well as his portrait at the top of this page, as kindly provided by John "J-Cat" Griffith. To visit this interesting site, just click on:
John J. Montgomery
     Be sure to visit the homepage of this site and take advantage of its many features. To access it just click on:
Find A Grave

Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Flier,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

BackNext Home