Aerial Experiment Association - Origins

Origins

The AEA came into being when John Alexander Douglas McCurdy and his friend Frederick W. "Casey" Baldwin, two recent engineering graduates of the University of Toronto, decided to spend the summer in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. McCurdy had grown up there, and his father was the personal secretary of Dr. Bell. He had grown up close to the Bell family and was well received in their home. One day, as the three sat with Dr. Bell discussing the problems of aviation, Mabel Bell, Alexander's wife, suggested they create a formal research group to exploit their collective ideas. Being independently wealthy, she provided a total of US$35,000 (approximately $910,000 in current dollars) to finance the Association, with $20,000 made available immediately by the sale of property.

Glenn H. Curtiss, the American motorcycle designer and manufacturer and recognized expert on gasoline engines, was recruited as a member of the association. Curtiss had visited the Wright Cycle Company to discuss aeronautical engineering with Wilbur and Orville Wright, and wrote offering them use of a 50 hp engine, but Wilbur cordially declined, assuring him that a motor of their own development met their power needs, unaware that the AEA was about to become a serious competitor in powered flight. Bell wrote to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to have an interested young officer who had volunteered his help, US Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, officially detailed to Baddeck. Selfridge was detailed to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps on 3 August 1907, two days after its formation, and sent to Nova Scotia. A year later he became the first person killed in an airplane accident while flying with one of the Wright Brothers on 17 September 1908.

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