Located in the Montgomery-Weller Recreation Center sits this fixed-wing, vertical monument. This wing-memorial is dedicated to John Montgomery, an American inventor, physicist, engineer, and professor at Santa Clara College in Santa Clara, California who is best known for his invention of controlled heavier-than-air flying machines. In the 1880s Montgomery, a native of Yuba City, California made manned flight experiments in a series of gliders in the United States in Otay Mesa near San Diego, California. Although not publicized in the 1880s, these early flights were first described by Montgomery as part of a lecture delivered at the International Conference on Aerial Navigation at Chicago, 1893. These independent advances came after gliding flights by European pioneers such as George Cayley's coachman in England (1853) and Jean-Marie Le Bris in France (1856). Although Montgomery never claimed firsts, his gliding experiments of the 1880s are considered by some historians and organizations to have been the first controlled flights of a heavier-than-air flying machine in America or in the Western Hemisphere,depending on source.
Backstory and Context
In 1884 Montgomery received a patent for a process to vulcanize and de-vulcanize India rubber. In 1895 and again in the period 1901 to 1904, Montgomery occasionally supplemented his aeronautical research with work in other branches of science, including electricity, communication, astronomy and mining. In 1895 he received four patents (American, German, British, and Canadian) for improvements in the efficiency of petroleum burning furnaces. In 1897 he took a teaching position at Santa Clara College and directed study of wireless telegraphy with Father Richard Bell. They were first to successfully transmit messages from Santa Clara College to San Francisco. Montgomery also patented two gold concentrator devices to assist miners in extracting gold from beach sands.
In early 1903 veteran balloonist Thomas Baldwin sought Montgomery's knowledge of aeronautics. Baldwin had also been assisting August Greth in constructing and experimenting with an airship (dubbed the California Eagle) at San Jose, California. Baldwin wanted improved propeller designs for dirigibles. He stopped working with Greth and came to Santa Clara College for an extended period to learn aeronautics from Montgomery. Their work together included wind tunnel tests at the college. At Baldwin's suggestion, they entered into a business arrangement in 1904 to make public exhibitions with manned Montgomery gliders launched at high altitudes from unmanned Baldwin balloons. By late May 1904, Montgomery made test flights with a new glider. However, Baldwin abandoned their collaboration and instead constructed his own airship (the California Arrow) at San Jose incorporating Montgomery’s propeller design and a 7-horsepower motorcycle engine (the Hercules of G.H. Curtiss Mfg Co.). The California Arrow would be first in America to make repeated circuits under control. During a protracted period of acrimony between Montgomery and Baldwin, Baldwin entered the California Arrow in the aeronautic competition at the St. Louis World’s Fair in November, 1904 and took first place.
In the fall of 1904 Montgomery conducted tests of his tandem-wing glider, the Montgomery Aeroplane, with associates Frank Hamilton and Daniel J. Maloney. On March 16, 17 and 20, 1905, in Aptos, California, Daniel Maloney made several successful flights in the glider at Leonard's ranch (Rancho San Antonio, now known as Seascape), after releasing from a hot-air balloon at high altitude. The resulting glides were well-controlled, and flights lasted up to 13 minutes. News of these flights received attention in both the U.S. and Europe. After this success, Montgomery gave a press conference to provide for the first time a history of his efforts in aeronautics and announced a patent application for his aeroplane. On April 29, 1905, Montgomery, Maloney, and Hamilton provided a public demonstration of the Montgomery Aeroplane, rechristened that day as The Santa Clara in honor of Santa Clara College. In view of hundreds of spectators and members of the press, Maloney released from the balloon at an approximate altitude of 4,000 feet above Santa Clara College. Maloney performed a series of pre-determined maneuvers and made a soft landing near the college grounds. This exhibition brought widespread recognition for Montgomery and was generally accepted as a milestone in aviation. In the following months Montgomery and Maloney made many exhibitions with The Santa Clara in the San Francisco bay area. On July 18, 1905 Maloney was killed when a rope from the balloon damaged the glider during the ascent, causing structural failure after release.
Following the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Montgomery’s gliding experiments were curtailed until 1911. Montgomery began experimenting with a new control system in which pitch and roll of the glider were managed by wing warping, while the tail assembly was fixed. Montgomery intended to add a motor and apply for a patent. This glider, The Evergreen (named after the region where flight tests occurred on the hillsides east of San Jose, California), was flown by Montgomery as well as another aeronaut Reinhardt more than 50 times in October 1911. On October 31 Montgomery was attempting to land at low speed and encountered turbulence, which caused a stall. He crashed and died at the site of his injuries. The hillside (now known as "Montgomery Hill") is just behind Evergreen Valley College. John J. Montgomery was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California on November 3, 1911.
In 1946, Columbia Pictures released a full-length movie titled Gallant Journey based on John J. Montgomery's life and work. The film was directed by William A. Wellman, and starred Glenn Ford as Montgomery, Janet Blair as his wife Regina (née Cleary), whom he had married in 1910, and Charles Ruggles. The stunt pilots for the film were Paul Mantz, Paul Tuntland and Don Stevens. The film included several different historical reenactments of Montgomery’s glider flights. Gallant Journey premiered in San Diego, California on September 2, 1946 and had its full national release September 24, 1946. As part of the publicity for the movie, Columbia Pictures sponsored a cross-country Boston to Los Angeles tour featuring a 1911 vintage auto, the same vintage as Montgomery’s last flight. William Wellman had served previously in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed as an officer at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California and Glenn Ford had also served in San Diego during World War II.
Montgomery, John J. Soaring Flight, manuscript, 1895.
Montgomery, John J. The Mechanics Involved in a Bird's Wing in Soaring and Their Relation to Aeronautics, Address to the Southern California Academy of Sciences, Los Angeles, Nov. 9, 1897.
Montgomery, John J. The Aeroplane, The Aeroplane Advertising Co., Santa Clara, CA, 1905.
Montgomery, John J. New Principles in Aerial Flight, Scientific American, November 25, 1905.
Montgomery, John J. Principles Involved in the Formation of Winged Surfaces and the Phenomenon of Soaring, presented at the Aeronautics Congress, New York, Oct. 28-29, 1907. Published as a series in Aeronautics Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 30-33, October, 1908; Vol. 3, No. 5, pp. 34-40, November, 1908; Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 32-36, December, 1908; Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 43-46.
Montgomery, John J. Some Early Gliding Experiments in America, Aeronautics, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1909, pp. 47–50.
Montgomery, John J. The Origin of Wing Warping: Professor Montgomery's Experiments, Aeronautics (London), Vol. 3, No. 6, 1910, pp. 63–64.
Montgomery, John J. Our Tutors in the Art of Flying, Aeronautics, September 22, 1915, pp. 99–100 (article printed posthumously).
Spearman, Arthur Dunning John J. Montgomery: Father of Basic Flying. Santa Clara University 1967 and 2nd ed. 1977.
Harwood, Craig S. and Fogel, Gary B. Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West. University of Oklahoma Press 2012.
John J. Montgomery Collection, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California.
John J. Montgomery Personal Papers, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego, California.
John J. Montgomery Papers 1885-1947, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
John J. Montgomery: San Diego Historical Society
John J. Montgomery: Santa Clara College
History of John J. Montgomery's flights at Rohnerville
Glider Pioneer's Widow to See Memorial Site". San Diego Union. San Diego, CA. April 2, 1946.
"Kin of Montgomery Due in S.D. Today". San Diego Union. San Diego, CA. May 19, 1950.
Program from the Dedication of the Montgomery Memorial, Montgomery Park, Otay, California, Sunday May 21, 1950, San Diego Junior Chamber of Commerce.
"First Glider Tower Takes Initial Flight," San Diego Union May 21, 1950.