Samuel Franklin Cody
Aldershot Military Museum, Aldershot, England
Samuel Franklin Cody’s funeral on 11th August 1913 at Aldershot Military Cemetery was a first. Not because it was attended by over a thousand representatives from the British Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corps. Not because the funeral procession was over a mile long and was led by the Band and Pipers of the Black Watch Highland Regiment. And not because the coffin was carried in a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery and draped in a Union Jack, or because of the 100,000 mourners who thronged the streets of Aldershot to see it pass. But because it was the first time a civilian was buried in a military cemetery, alongside officers and soldiers of the British Army. Samuel was just 48 when he died. He’d been killed in an accident while testing a hydro-aircraft he himself had designed. It was called the Cody Floatplane, and was far from the first aircraft he’d designed. In fact, aircraft design was far from Samuel’s first career. He was born in Iowa and first made his living as a young man as a travelling theatrical show, performing as a cowboy. By 1890, Samuel had made his way to London, where he was engaged to appear at the Olympia in a production called Burlesque of the Wild West. He started writing plays, too. All with a wild-west theme, of course. And it was at some time around then he started to get interested in kites. The kind of kites a person could attach himself to. The kind of kites that were 13feet wide. At first it was small fry. Samuel would demonstrate the kites he was building as the interval act during his shows. But then, word spread. And before his feet could touch the ground, in 1904 Samuel started demonstrating his kites for the military in Aldershot. Small aircraft were a logical next step. Four years on, Samuel had built and designed his first aeroplane. On 16 October 1908, that aeroplane became the first manned, powered aircraft flight in this country when it was tested on Farnborough Common. The flight lasted only 27 seconds. But it was a breakthrough. Samuel Franklin Cody had made history. By the time of his death five years later in 1913, he’d designed and tested many other planes on behalf of the military. He’d become a hero. And after he was laid to rest, a floral tribute was placed on his grave. It spelled out the words Britain’s Greatest Airman.