Everyone has heard of Wilbur and Orville Wright, two brothers that went from owning a bicycle store to creating the first airplane. While these two are herald as the founders of modern aviation, not many people talk about their rival, Rochester native John F. Cooley.
Cooley first began work in 1890. He had dreams of creating a flying boat that could transport people from city to city. By September of 1895 he had created a unmanned model of his ship, Forty feet long and twenty feet wide, with eight canvas wings, the model itself was twice the size of the Wright flyer which would make history eight years later. The New York Times reported on his test run:
“Four strong men kept the boat anchored on ropes. The boat was allowed to cath a breeze, which struck her amidship and she shot up like a rocket. The higher she went the faster her speed until the slack in the rope played out, she began to wear out the men holding on to her. Several of the men gave way after their hands had become badly lacerated.”
The airship had risen to 500 feet before Cooley’s men lost control of the prototype, which crashed into a grove of trees. Seeing the success of his test run Cooley expected a successful passenger ship that could carry two pilots as well as five passengers across the sky. Unfortunately he lacked the funding to make his dream a reality. That is until 1903, when the Wright Brothers success spurned investors to find the next big air project.
Cooley quickly sold his vision to a group of wealthy investors from Rochester and began construction in 1910. The final design was 81 feet long and 42 feet wide, the local paper billed it as “The First All Rochester Plane”
In true fast ferry like fashion the project never made it off the ground. The project ran out of money and Cooley disappeared with outstanding debt. Not before signing over ownership of the ship to a local grocer who he owned money to. The unpaid crew abandoned the project, and the ship was later destroyed by a windstorm.
Cooley was later found in New York City selling stock, in an airship