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Iowa History Daily: Captain Tom & the Red Devil

Iowa History Daily: On October 13, 1910, the far-famed early airplane innovator “Captain Tom” Baldwin made Iowa’s first flight in Iowa City with his “Red Devil.” Brought in to wow audiences with his new biplane, Captain Tom completed Iowa’s first successful ‘airship’ flight, while also crashing in front of an amazed audience.

Born in Missouri, Tom Baldwin witnessed the murder of his parents by Civil War Renegades during late-June of 1854. Place with a foster family, Baldwin ran away at the age of 14 and worked on the railroad and circus acrobat. When Baldwin acquired a hot-air balloon in the 1870s, he started to perform an act featuring daring stunts including the first parachute jumps from a hot-air balloon. Moving from hot-air balloons to dirigibles, “Captain Tom” wowed audiences across the country.

In 1909, Baldwin designed a pusher biplane featuring steel tubing and wood frame wings named “The Red Devil.” He prepared a new routine of acrobatic stunts and prepared to take his show on the road. During early September of 1910 he successfully completed the first plane flight over the Mississippi River. In the aftermath of the stunt, the Iowa City Commercial Club raised $2,000 to bring Captain Tom’s Red Devil to town.

Part of the Iowa City Fall Festival, Captain Tom took to the sky in his Red Devil on October 13. The first flight went as planned, and the Red Devil made a wide arc over the grandstand before coming in for a landing. The second flight, however, didn’t go as smoothly. The plane clipped some trees on ascent, and Captain Tom tumbled to the ground from 30’ in the air. Bruised but unbroken, Captain Tom waved to the crowd as he emerged from the wreckage. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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