At This Place in History, we visited the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland. Vermont Historical Society’s Executive Director Steve Perkins talked about one of Vermont’s pioneer aviators.

“We are going to talk about one of Vermont’s pioneering aviators and a somewhat tragic story. Take yourself back to 1913 so the grounds look like this and you have this brand new invention the airplane circling overhead and hundreds of people from all around the state are coming here to see these daredevils flying planes,” said Perkins.

“George Schmidt and is a guy who grew up in Rutland, the son of a German immigrant baker ran the Marble City Bakery here in town, had an aptitude for mechanics, but really he got this bug for flying really at an early age. He was eleven years old when the Wright brothers in 1903 made that first air flight and the next year the kid is playing with gliders and little airplanes, and by the time he was eighteen he was building his own gliders, pulling them behind automobiles on this very race track in Rutland,” added Perkins.

“He really loved to fly, dropped out of technical school because he wanted to go fly an airplane. He took lessons on learning how to fly an airplane and ended up finding a business partner and creating a company to do exhibition airline flights. They were based out of New York City in Brooklyn and they barnstormed all over the United States flying airplanes at fairs and festivals. He wanted to be the first guy to fly an airplane in Vermont he wasn’t a few came before him. So he said, “I’m going to be the first guy to fly an airplane in my hometown in Rutland at the Vermont State Fair”. He couldn’t quite do it, his airplane didn’t work so he was beaten. But in 1912 he came here and flew an exhibition flights all around this airfield,” said Perkins.

“He went on a barnstorming tour of the Caribbean in the winter of 1912 and 1914 kind of the northern coast of South America and his real claim to fame was he was the first aviator to fly from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, of course, he did that flying over the Islands of Panama, there is a record for him for flying over that,” added Perkins.

“He came back in the fall to do another stunt that he did here in Rutland and that was to do the first airmail delivery in the state of Vermont. The post office set up a little remote post office at the fairgrounds. People could bring their letter. He took it up to his airplane and then dropped it on roof or next to the remote office next to Rutland City. So there was air delivery from the fairgrounds. One trip through in 1913 ended in tragedy. It was the second day of flying at the fair on September 2nd.He’s flying and a young lawyer from Rutland flying with him. We’re not sure exactly what happened but he lost control and in front of hundreds of people the plane crashed on the fairgrounds. George was crushed by radiator and lawyer survived the crash. He was the first air fatality in the state,” said Perkins.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

For a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.