Today in History: Nov. 2

Howard Hughes hated the nickname, the “Spruce Goose,” given to his enormous flying boat, which was made out of a wood composite because of aluminum restrictions imposed on industry during World War II.

The plane was to be the product of a collaboration between Henry Kaiser of Kaiser Steel and Hughes to produce an aircraft strong enough to carry many fully equipped troops or a couple fully equipped tanks across the Atlantic. A U.S. government contract for three planes was issued to the two industrialists in 1942. Designs were developed, models were made, materials were tested to replace the aluminum that would otherwise be required for the body of the plane.

By 1944, Kaiser withdrew from the project, frustrated by Hughes’ perfectionism. The military contract was re-written to just one plane. Further designs were drawn up and revised. The war ended, which did not close the contract, and work on the enormous plane continued. Each piece of the wood composite that made up the plane was hand-ironed by employees of the company in Wisconsin that had developed the formula for it.

In 1947, Hughes was brought before the U.S. Congress and asked to explain what the $2.5 million the government had spent in the contract had purchased. He testified:

The Hercules [his official name for the plane] was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That’s more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it’s a failure, I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.

On this date in 1947, Hughes introduced the Hughes H-4 Hercules to the public: he taxied it in the waters off San Pedro Breach in California. Back and forth the plane went, which was all that anyone said Hughes was going to do with the plane. Several reporters on hand to photograph the behemoth left to file their stories, to their chagrin. On the final test run, with Hughes at the controls, the plane took off.

Perhaps it was his plan all along. Hughes brought the plane to 70 feet above the water for a total of a minute, but it silenced critics in and out of government. Too late for the contract or not, even though it was no longer needed for a war effort, the plane was built and it flew. Two-hundred-and-eighteen feet long, eighty feet tall, with a wingspan of three-hundred-and-twenty feet (four engines on each wing), and weighing more than most planes could lift, the plane flew.

Here is a silent newsreel clip from that day. The Aviator handles the same scene with a bit more drama:

 
* * * *
The following men were elected President of the United States on November 2: Andrew Jackson (1824), Franklin Pierce, James Garfield, Warren G. Harding, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter.

* * * *
Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, on this date in 1930.

* * * *
George Bernard Shaw died on this date in 1950. James Thurber died 55 years ago today. Mississippi John Hurt died 50 years ago today. “You Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley”:

 
Paul Frees died 30 years ago today. Irwin Allen died 25 years ago today. Toni Stone died 20 years ago today.

* * * *
President James K. Polk was born on this date in 1795. President Warren G. Harding was born on this date in 1865. (Harding is so far the only U.S. President elected on his birthday.)

* * * *
Thomas Mallon is 65 today. k.d. lang is 55 today. “Trail of Broken Hearts”:

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One comment

  1. Martha Kennedy · November 2

    I love the Spruce Goose. It’s an amazing thing.

    Like

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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