Samuel Cody

'I may say that I have achieved some success as a result of my scientific studies. The limit of my success, however, is bound by the limit of my capital.' ~Samuel Cody

What success? What capital? And what does he mean, scientific studies? Wasn't he from Texas?

Yes, he was. We think. Sort of. Well, not really. There was no birth recorded of a Samuel Franklin Cody, but he is believed to have been Franklin Cowdery, born in Davenport, Iowa in 1867. His Father, a Civil War veteran (on the Union side) left the family when the boy was eight, apparently taking the family name with him. But he told a lot of people he was from Texas, and as he was an expert cowboy, sharpshooter, and aeronautical innovator, people took him at his word.


As a dedicated cowboy, Cody headed Northeast early in life to Pennsylvania, where he married a woman named Maud Lee, signing the marriage certificate in his new name. The two did a great deal of cowboy-stuff together, demonstrating sharpshooting with rifles and pistols as well as acts of horsemanship.

He had other hobbies as well--one in which the government was interested. He conducted kite-flying experiments with the Feds at Blue Hill Observatory in Massachussetts until deciding to start chasing his cowboy dreams again.

Go East, Young Man

And you thought a cowboy would logically want to go West. England held large attractions for Cody, who arrived in Blighty at the age of thirty-four hoping to rope together a Western show. This endeavor failed, as did his marriage, which hit a rough spot when Maud fell out of a balloon and hit a rough spot of her own. She had to be shipped back to the States, and wound up in a lunatic asylum.

In the face of such disasters, the self-commissioned Colonel Cody turned his mind to kites, and his body to a woman named Lela, who became his common-law wife.

Let's Go Fly A Kite

  • 1901: Cody patents a two-celled box-kite, similar to previous designs, but with wings added for extra lift. Considered by those who consider these things to be one of the most elegant kite designs ever, he intended it as a man-lifting observation system for use during the Boer War in South Africa.

  • 1903: Cody crosses the English Channel in a canoe attached to one of his kites. The British Admiralty lifts its collective head and strokes its chin.

  • 1906: The Army appoints Cody Chief Instructor in Kiting of the Balloon School at Aldershot. That sounds very silly, but isn't. His mission: to form two kite sections for the Royal Engineers.

  • 1907:Nulli Secundus, the military's first airship, is designed by Sam Cody and Colonel J. E. Capper. They're on board as it breaks the record for flight time from Aldershot to London--three hours, twenty-five minutes. The in-flight meal is terrible.

  • 1908: Man-lifting kites are demonstrated by Cody off the deck of the HMS Revenge. Officers reach heights of above 3000 feet. They can see their houses from here.

It is during this year that Cody's focus shifted from wind-powered flight, which is dangerous and unreliable, to powered flight, which is...dangerous and unreliable. His next series of projects would have the military strangely ignoring him, and the Wright Brothers saying, 'been there, done that.'

  • 1908: A 12 horsepower engine is strapped to one of his kites, and a successful powered flight takes place on Laffan's Plain. Several more like it follow, culminating in a 1400-foot pleasure cruise that ends like Icarus. It is his first officially recorded powered flight.

  • 1909: Cody is forced to forge ahead without grant money when Secretary of State for War Haldane cuts Cody off at the landing gear. His MoD backstage pass is revoked.

Undaunted, Cody rebuilds his plane, and takes the wife (among others) for flights about the plains. She is the first female passenger. Cody also breaks a cross-country speed record.

Meanwhile, the military is off concentrating on mounted cavalry, and other things that are easily mowed down by tanks and machine gun fire.

  • 1912: A Cody plane is fitted with a 120hp engine, and wins the Military Trials on Salisbury Plain. Cody sells the winning chariot to the government and privately thumbs his nose in Haldane's direction.

  • Mutually Assured Destruction Has To Start Somewhere

    Invited to give a speech from his box at the Theatre Royal, Cody spoke of his heartfelt distaste for war, which along with coffee was pungently brewing on France's Western Front. He said that he would continue designing weapons of war, however, as they would ultimately be the only possible deterrent of massive military conflict. This plan of his had only one was bollocks.

    Well, That's Fitting

    Samuel Cody guessed it. Airplane crash. His sea-plane broke apart in mid-air in 1913, killing all aboard. The funeral procession drew over 100,000 people.

    Along with the Wright Brothers, Samuel Cody was one of the pioneers of early aviation, pushing the technology forward in England far enough that it was largely ready for the government to invest in by the time the the First World War began.

    He was not, apparently, much of a cowboy.