Frederick Marriott
1804 - 1884

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Frederick Marriott

While in his native England Frederick Marriott worked with William S. Henson and John Stringfellow, securing publicity for their aerial efforts which included the Henson Aerial Steam Carriage. In 1850, Marriott left England for the wilds of Gold-Rush Era California. A skilled publicist, journalist and editor, in 1856 he established the San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser. Not surprisingly, Marriott continued to mix his skill as a publicist with his interest in aerial enterprises after he relocated to California. For years he solicited funds to build the Avitor Hermes, Jr., a slightly-heavier-than-air airship, which weighed 84 pounds when not inflated and which weighed between 4 and 10 pounds when inflated.

The Avitor Hermes, Jr., was powered by a steam engine, having one 2" diameter cylinder with a 3" stroke, which was capable of generating 8 pounds of steam. The engine drove two two-bladed 4 ft.-diameter propellers, each mounted within one of two flat wings. The Avitor Hermes, Jr., 37 feet long and 14 feet in overall width, was designed as the test version of what would have been a passenger-carrying airship. On July 2, 1869, the 1,360 cu. ft. Avitor Hermes, Jr., was tested under power on a tether at Marriott's Avitor Works, located adjacent to Shell Mound Lake near present-day Millbrae, just south of San Francisco. There was at least one test inside the Avitor Works' large building that day, which was described by an eyewitness:

"While yet the machine remained, as it were, perfectly dormant, resting upon the floor with less than sufficient buoyancy to raise itself - requiring additional aid to relieve it from connection with earth - the machinery was put in motion and the propellers commenced their revolutions. At once life was imparted to the whole body, and it rose promptly and gracefully and took its flight into the air under guidance of the rudder, thus establishing the astounding fact that it had power and could fly, and giving proof that the grand problem had been solved. The carriage mounted nearly to the roof with a firmness and steadiness equal to the movements of an ocean-steamer on smooth water."
                - English Mechanic and Mirror of Science September 3, 1869

There was also one tethered test outdoors on July 2, 1869, during which Avitor Hermes, Jr., completed two half-mile circles at a speed of 5 - 6 m.p.h. Among those present to observe the airship's trials was a young John J. Montgomery.

Avitor Hermes, Jr. - July 1869

"The morning was beautiful and still - scarcely a breath of air stirring. the conditions were favorable to success. The gasometer was fully inflated and the model was floated out of the building. In six minutes steam was got up - the rudder set to give a slight curve to the course of the vessel - and the valves opened. With the first turn of the propellers she rose slowly into the air, gradually increasing her speed until the rate of five miles per hour was attained. The position of the rudder caused her to describe a great circle, around which she passed twice, occupying about five minutes each time. Lines had been fastened to both bow and stern, which held by two men, who followed her track, had sufficient ado to keep up with her at a dog trot."
                - Scientific American July 31, 1869

(An Aerial Retrospect)

What was it filled my youthful dreams,
In place of Greek or Latin themes,
Or beauty's wild, bewildering beams?

What visions and celestial scenes
I filled with aerial machines,
Montgolfier's and Mr. Green's!

What fairy tales seemed things of course!
The roc that brought Sindbad across,
The Calendar's own winged horse!

How many things I took for facts,-
Icarus and his conduct lax,
And how he sealed his fate with wax!

The first balloons I sought to sail,
Soap-bubbles fair, but all too frail,
Or kites,--but thereby hangs a tail.

What made me launch from attic tall
A kitten and a parasol,
And watch their bitter, frightful fall?

What youthful dreams of high renown
Bade me inflate the parson's gown,
That went not up, nor yet came down?

My first ascent I may not tell;
Enough to know that in that well
My first high aspirations fell.

My other failures let me pass:
The dire explosions, and, alas!
The friends I choked with noxious gas.

For lo! I see perfected rise
The vision of my boyish eyes,
The messenger of upper skies.

- Bret Harte, winner, San Francisco News Letter
poetry contest, ca. 1869

U.S. Patent Drawing of The Avitor - 1869

Send us more news about Mr. Marriott's air-ship -- the telegraph is too reticent. Some of our people take the remarks about the Avitor for mere 'talk,' and so pay little attention to it. Others receive in good faith what the telegraph says, and get up a good deal of enthusiasm about it. It is a subject that is bound to stir the pulses of any man one talks seriously to about, for in this age of inventive wonders all men have come to believe that in some genius' brain sleeps the solution of the grand problem of aerial navigation -- and along with that belief is the hope that that genius will reveal his miracle before they die, and likewise a dread that he will poke off somewhere and die himself before he finds out that he has such a wonder lying dormant in his brain. We all know the air can be navigated -- therefore, hurry up your sails and bladders -- satisfy us -- let us have peace...."         - Mark Twain, Alta California, August 1, 1869

Frederick Marriott's efforts to build the large Avitor were unsuccessful, due primarily to the difficulty of raising funds during the economic depression which hit California after the boom of the 1850's and 1860's. Despite the difficulties he encountered, Marriott's interest in aerial navigation was undiminished. In the mid-1870's he constructed a model of a triplane (probably similar to Stringfellow's triplane) which he named for Leland Stanford. In describing this heavier-than-air machine in print, Marriott used the word "aeroplane" to describe the entire machine rather than only the wings, and may have been the first person to use it with that meaning.

Frederick Marriott's association with Henson and Stringfellow would probably have been enough for him to be remembered as a champion of flight, but his continuing efforts to design and build a functioning practical flying machine and to publicize the possibility of heavier-than-air flight stand as important contributions to flight during the 19th century.

The Avitor Depicted In Flight - 1869

Link to the Avitor Hermes, Jr. at the Hiller Aviation Museum