Aeronautical Navigation Conference at 1893 World's Fair

From Inventing aviation
Jump to: navigation, search

The Aeronautical Navigation Conference at the 1893 World's Fair (Columbian Exposition) in Chicago represented a major gathering of inventors and theoreticians in the realm of aeronautics and aviation.

(Followed later in August by the 1893 International Meteorological Congress.)


According to the Conference Proceedings, the idea for the conference was brought forth by Prof. Albert Francis Zahm of Notre Dame University, and brought to the World's Congress Auxiliary. President, Charles C. Bonney; Vice-President, Thomas B. Bryan; Treasurer, Lyman J. Gage; Secretary, Benjamin Butterworth. This authority then created a Committee of the World's Congress Auxiliary on Aerial Navigation, chaired by Octave Chanute, which sent out a call for papers along specific lines. First, for a joint session which would discuss scientific principles of aeronautics. Then, for two branches of the conference which would discuss aviation and ballooning in tandem.[1] Forty-seven papers were selected for presentation. About 100 people attended.[1][2]

Chanute's introduction

In his opening address, Chanute described this conference as the third international conference on aerial navigation (the second being the International Aeronautical Congress of 1889 in Paris). Regarding the importance of these conferences, he continued:

The conference of 1889 undoubtedly forwarded the possible solution of the problem by making the public aware that a number of sane men were studying it in various parts of the world, by making these men acquainted with each other's labors, and by disseminating information concerning the scientific principles involved, the mechanical difficulties to be surmounted, and the practical details of aerial construction generally. Probably as a consequence of this, very considerable advance has been made during the last four years, as will be indicated hereafter, and a number of promising proposals are now in progress of experiment and development.

Chanute compared the progress of ballooning and aviation, suggesting that navigable war balloons in Europe were coming up to 25mph speeds, but speculating that heavier-than-air machines, when developed, would travel much faster and thus provide a more viable form of transportation.[3] He broke down the various problems which needed to be solved for heaver-than-air flight to succeed, continuing along the lines of various publications soon to be collected in his book Progress in Flying Machines.[4]

Notable presentations

Samuel P. Langley discussed the internal variability of "wind", in which he observed great variations from moment to monent. (Chanute described his work as "the exposition of a new natural law".) He argued that lightweight vessels (following the example of birds) could exploit these variations.

Soreau announced the construction of a newer and faster war balloon by Colonel Charles Renard of the French Military Aeronautical Department.

A paper was presented from the work of C.W. Hastings, a young engineer who died at age 33 in 1892. The paper expanded on Chanute's theoretical work on vessel side and the force requirements for flight.

Edward Chalmers Huffaker, a new acquaintance of Chanute's, presented on soaring flight, birds, and gliders.[5]

Zahm introduced a short submission by Lawrence Hargrave of Australia, entitled "Flying Machine Motors and Cellular Kites".

Committee members

Other notable attendees

And some inventors from outside the aero world, including John P. Holland (submarines), F. A. Pratt (milling machine), and Thomas Edison (electricity).[4]


Although not a great deal of the information was new, the effort to collect it signaled a serious and scientific approach to aeronautics & aviation. The Pittsburgh Dispatch reported:[6]

The Chicago Conference undoubtably marks a new era in aeronautics. It brought together many scientists and engineers who have been engaged seriously upon the problem of flight. The subject, it was shown, is one for the study of men of broad knowledge, and accurate training, and is no longer to be considered the hobby of mere cranks.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Proceedings of the Conference on Aerial Navigation: Held in Chicago August 1, 2, 3, and 4, 1893, American Engineer and Railroad Journal, 1894.
  2. University of Chicago, "World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago" (website connected with 2001 "Flight Before the Wrights" exhibit).
  3. Proceedings, p. 8.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hallion, 2003, pp. 172–173. Note: Hallion says Hargrave attended but it seems he only submitted a paper.
  5. Crouch, 1981, p. 86.
  6. Pittsburgh Dispatch, 23 January 1894, quoted in Crouch, 1981, p. 97.
Event names Aeronautical Navigation Conference; Conference on Aeronautical Navigation; Intl Meteorological Cong; World's Fair;
Event type conference
Country US
Location Chicago (World's Fair)
Start date 1893-08-01
Number of days 4
Tech focus LTA, balloon, propeller, propulsion, airplane, stability, parachute, glider


Crouch, 1981, p. 84, says interest was expressed and papers sent by Other papers were sent by Robert Baden-Powell, Otto Lilienthal, Frederick William Brearey, Charles Algernon Parsons, and Gaston Tissandier — but their papers don't show up in the Proceedings.

Publications referring to Chicago 1893 Publications referring to Aeronautical Navigation Conference at 1893 World's Fair