Colonel S. F. Cody

The fine article by Jean Roberts on Samuel Cody published in the Winter Journal caused some interest and I have had two letters from members. The first was from Graham Hall who included some extracts from Bradford newspapers written concerning Cody’s visit to the Bradford Exhibition in 1904.

Dear Bill,

Many thanks for the journal which arrived the other day and I was particularly interested in the article concerning Samuel Franklin Cody by Jean Roberts. A lovely bit of research ! I have a similar interest in the man but perhaps not quite so involved because of Cody's involvement with the 1904 Bradford Exhibition.

I thought a few bits and pieces concerning Cody and the exhibition may be of some interest to Jean and possibly you yourself Bill - hence the attached. Certainly his period spent in Bradford was not exactly a resounding success as you will see but by God he certainly had guts !

Colonel S. F. Cody with his kites at Alexandra Palace in 1903

Picture kindly supplied by Jean Roberts

Newspaper extracts concerning Samuel Franklin Cody and his involvement with the

1904 Bradford Exhibition

"Bradford Daily Argus" - 27th July, 1904:

(Remember this is almost three months following the opening of the Exhibition.)

So we are to have another attraction at the exhibition! Colonel Cody, known to everyone as 'Buffalo Bill', is bringing to Bradford his man lifting war kites, which have been tested by the Admiralty and other authorities in regard to their practical use in war on land and sea. The kites or aeroplanes, as the Colonel calls them, are constructed of silk with frames of American hickory or steel tubing. They are in the strictest sense kites, having no gas inflation and not being intended at all for free ascents. They are bat-like in shape. In actual experience they have carried a man to a height of 1,600 feet and held him safely at that altitude for observation purposes. Instruments for meteorological observations they have carried to a height of 14,000 feet.

Colonel Cody, his wife and two sons are all habituated to journeys upward through the aid of these strange means of conveyance. The kite is held fast by a galvanized wire cable, and the aeronaut sits in a small basket chair with various controlling ropes at easy command. The aeronaut carries with him a camera, a telescope, a small shooting arm, a telephone for communication with the winch controller below and various other useful accessories. Under normal conditions an ascent and descent occupy a period of about one hour. The Colonel will make ascents at the exhibition on Saturday and every day for a week or more. As Colonel Cody's kites have not been seen anywhere in this neighborhood - if in the North of England at all - it is expected that they will attract general attention from visitors to the exhibition.

I have copies of scores of correspondence written by officials involved with the event from originals at the West Yorkshire Archive and in one written by J. Ledingham, who was an architect of some of the pavilions at the exhibition, to W. H. Knight the General Manager of the exhibition (he held the same position at many similar events including the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908) there is the following extract:

Dated 18th July, 1904.

At the Chairman's meeting this morning they decided to give Colonel Cody permission for a demonstration on Saturday next at his own terms.

In another intriguing extract from a letter written by W. H. Knight himself to E. B. Rawlinson Esq. of Halifax Bank Chambers, Tyrrel Street, Bradford, dated the 29th of May 1904 we have the following:

Dear Sir,

I am in receipt of your letter of the 27th inst. and I have seen Mr. Cody, who has I believe visited your premises, and will I am sure be glad to repair the damage done to the chimney stack.

The above incident was reported in a number of the local papers. Poor old Cody had bad luck to test the patience of anyone during his engagement at the Bradford Exhibition and this was the culmination made much of in the newspapers:

"The Leeds & Yorkshire Mercury", Monday August 8th, 1904

Apparently a demonstration was underway in the early evening of Saturday the 6th. During this a young man of twenty, Mr. H. Baker in the employ of The Vacuum Cleaning Company at the exhibition, volunteered and asked to have a flight. Mr. Cody agreed but the young man panicked during the demonstration and finished up grabbing a chimney stack in Keighley Road (which bordered the event). He eventually scrambled to safety through an attic window in Clock House. (The building still survives being part of the Bradford Grammar School estate).

There are a number of newspaper reports covering the short period of Cody's displays at the exhibition and it seems he was frustrated by either the closeness of trees or the wind was too strong - or no wind at all. This sounds to have been the downfall of his 'invention'. Yet local 'aeronaut' Ruben Bramhall seemed to have an amazingly successful run at the event with both tethered and free flights of his two balloons, "City of Bradford" and "The Prince of Wales" but that's another story.

In all the years I have been collecting, no postcards have come to light covering Cody and his experiences at the Bradford Exhibition, yet there is an excellent card of Bramhall’s "The Prince of Wales" balloon. Any news of such cards would be of great interest to me.

Another member Ken Harman also wrote to me as follows,

Dear Bill,

Just a small follow-up for you. I recently reviewed (for the Royal Aeronautical Society) a new biography on Cody. The author, Peter Reese, had been in touch with Jean Roberts and made very good use of her collection in his writing. Incidentally, I think she lives in one of the former Cody residences in the Aldershot area - hence her great interest.

You may think it worthwhile to include my review in the Journal and a copy is enclosed.

The Flying Cowboy: Samuel Cody, Britain's First Airman

By Peter Reese

Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG.

256 PP. Soft-back. Illustrated. 17.99. ISBN 0-7524-3659-7

There have already been three biographies on Cody and one might question why another has been published: the reasons are soon clear. The first book was published in 1953 by G. A. Broomfield who had been associated with Cody's early aviation days and is full of the myths and legends of his cowboy and circus experiences. The second by A. G. Lee (1965) took up a hundred pages largely recounting reminiscences passed on by the aging Vivian Cody. It was therefore a relief when in 1999 Garry Jenkins published a fine account of Cody's life for he now had access to new important material, especially from Jean Roberts, the current occupier of one of Cody's former homes.

But this new book goes much further for Peter Reese has obviously done extensive research both here and abroad and has also included lots of material from Jean Roberts' treasure trove. Cody's early life and his Wild West shows are put into perspective at last and all his fabrications of names, events and dates are clearly set out: an extraordinary story indeed for his real name was Cowdery and most of the details he gave of his birth and marriage were lies. Amazingly, he continued to stick to these stories even when he applied for British naturalization as late as 1909.

From page 40 onwards we are treated to a full explanation of the kite-flying days, followed by the story of Cody's diversion assisting with the development of military airships which frustrated his aim of producing his own aeroplane. The dithering and meanness of the War Office must have alienated Cody greatly although he had the advantage of using military facilities at Aldershot for many years. He had a natural aptitude for mechanical things and being energetic and exuberant, even his many crashes did not deter him from his aims so that he eventually succeeded where so many others failed. There is a splendid explanation of his need to take part in aviation meetings and races to provide adequate income and a full account of the Circuit of Great Britain Race of 1911. Many hitherto unpublished photographs have been reproduced and there are good descriptions of the various planes together with very useful scale diagrams from Jean Roberts' collection. An appendix shows photographs of aero engines used by Cody.

A good index together with a proper bibliography are most welcome, advantages which are slightly offset by a few obvious errors and a strange lack of accurate French accents. It is a pity that it is not available in hardback for surely this perceptive analysis will be the standard book on Cody for many years. Highly recommended.

Ken Harman, Affiliate

Ken has checked with the Royal Aeronautical Society that it is O.K. to use this: their only request is that we should add the following, which we are happy to do.

"This review was originally compiled for the Royal Aeronautical Society's publication The Aerospace Professional', July 2006.