Samuel Franklin Cody

Samuel Franklin Cody

Samuel Franklin Cody in 1906
Born 6 March 1867 (1867-03-06)
Davenport, Iowa, USA
Died 7 August 1913(1913-08-07) (aged 46)
United Kingdom
Occupation Showman, aviator, aircraft designer

Samuel Franklin Cowdery (later known as Samuel Franklin Cody) (6 March 1867 – 7 August 1913) was born in Birdville, Texas, USA.[1] He was an early pioneer of manned flight, most famous for his work on the large kites known as Cody War-Kites that were used in World War I as a smaller alternative to balloons for artillery spotting. He was also the first man to conduct a powered flight in Britain, on 16 October 1908.[2] A flamboyant showman, he was and still is often confused with Buffalo Bill Cody,[3] whose surname he took when young.


Early life

Cody's early life is difficult to separate from his own stories told later in life, but he was born Samuel Franklin Cowdery in 1867 in Davenport, Iowa,[4] where he attended school until the age of 12. Not much is known about his life at this time although he claimed that during his youth he had lived the typical life of a cowboy. He learned how to ride and train horses, shoot and use a lasso. He later claimed to have prospected for gold in an area which later became Dawson City, centre of the famous Klondike Gold Rush. He still has relatives living in England.


In 1888, at 21 years of age, Cody started touring the US with Forepaugh's Circus, which at the time had a large Wild West show component. He married Maud Maria Lee in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and the name Samuel Franklin Cody appears on the April, 1889 marriage certificate.

Cody in 1909

Cody, together with his wife Maud Maria Lee, toured England with a shooting act. Maud used the stage name Lillian Cody, which she kept for the rest of her performing career. In London they met Mrs Elizabeth Mary King [later known as Lela Marie Cody] (née Elizabeth Mary Davis) who had stage ambitions for two of her younger children, Vivian and Leon King (later known as Leon and Vivian Cody). In 1891, Maud Maria Lee (Cody's real wife) taught the boys how to shoot, but then later returned to the USA alone. Evidence suggests that by the fall of 1891, Maud was unable to perform with her husband due to injury, morphine addiction, the onset of schizophrenia, or a combination of these ills. After Maud returned to America, her husband took up with Mrs King; but the marriage of Cody and Lee was never legally dissolved.

While in England, Cody, Lela King and her sons toured the music halls, which were very popular at the time, giving demonstrations of his horse riding, shooting and lassoing skills. While touring Europe in the mid-1890s, Cody capitalized on the bicycle craze by staging a series of horse vs. bicycle races against famous cyclists. Cycling organizations quickly frowned on this practice, which drew accusations of fixed results. In 1898 Cody's stage show, The Klondyke Nugget, became very successful; it included Edward Le Roy (Edward King, Lela's eldest son from her marriage to Edward John King (a licensed victualler) and brother to Leon and Vivian who were known as Cody to save any embarrassment. While in England, Cody still lived with Mrs King (his common-law wife who used the name of Lela Marie Cody, and who was generally assumed to be his legal wife). One of Lela's great-grandsons is the BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson.


Man-lifter War Kite designed by Samuel Franklin Cody

It is not clear why Cody became fascinated by kite flying. Cody liked to recount a tale that he first became inspired by a Chinese cook; who, apparently, taught him to fly kites, whilst traveling along the old cattle trail.[5] However, it is more likely that Cody's interest in kites was kindled by his friendship with Auguste Gaudron, a balloonist that Cody met while performing at Alexandra Palace. Cody showed an early interest in the creation of man-lifting kites, which were joined one after the other, forming a single line of kites in the sky. Leon also became interested, and the two of them competed to make the largest kites capable of flying at ever-increasing heights. Vivian too became involved after a great deal of experimentation. Financed by his shows, Cody patented his famous design in 1901, a winged variation of Lawrence Hargrave's double-cell box kite. He offered this version for spotting to the War Office in December 1901 for use in the Second Boer War, and made several demonstration flights of up to 2,000 ft in various places around London.

A large exhibition of the Cody kites took place at Alexandra Palace in 1903. Later he succeeded in crossing the English Channel in a Berthon boat towed by one of his kites. His exploits came to the attention of the Admiralty, who hired him to look into the military possibilities of using kites for observation posts. He demonstrated them later that year, and again in 1908 when he flew off the deck of battleship HMS Revenge on September 2.

Cody's gliders

Cody's interests turned to gliders, based largely on his kite designs. He built a glider and flew it a number of times in 1905. It eventually suffered damage in a hard landing and was not repaired. This was because the British Army had since become sufficiently impressed in his kites to hire Cody as Chief Instructor in Kiting at the Balloon School in Aldershot in 1906. Cody was charged with the formation of two kite sections of the Royal Engineers. It was this group that would evolve into the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, No. 1 Company of which later became No. 1 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps and eventually No. 1 Squadron Royal Air Force.

'Nulli Secundus'

During this period he also built a motorized kite that he wanted to develop into a man-carrying airplane. However the Army was more interested in airships, and during 1907 he was part of the team at Aldershot making British Army Dirigible No 1, christened Nulli Secundus, England's first powered airship. On October 5 the Nulli Secundus flew from Aldershot to London in 3 hours 25 minutes with Cody, the principal designer of the propulsion system and gondola, and Colonel J E Capper on board. After circling St Paul's Cathedral they attempted to return to Aldershot, but 18 mph headwinds forced them to land at Crystal Palace.

Cody aeroplanes

Gale and Polden postcard of Cody's funeral procession on 11 August 1913
The grave of Samuel Franklin Cody in Aldershot Military Cemetery

Later that year the Army decided to back the development of a powered aeroplane, the British Army Aeroplane No 1. After just under a year of construction he started testing the machine in September 1908, gradually lengthening his "hops" until they reached 1,390 ft (420 m) on 16 October. His flight of 5 October is recognised as the first official flight of a piloted heavier than air machine in Great Britain.[6] The machine had been damaged at the end of the 16 October flight. After repairs and extensive modifications Cody flew it again early the following year. But the War Office then decided to stop backing development of heavier-than-air aircraft, and Cody's contract with the Army ended in April 1909. Cody was given the aircraft, and continued to work on the aircraft at Farnborough, using Laffan's Plain for his test flights. On May 14 he succeeded in flying the aircraft for over a mile, establishing the first official British distance and endurance records.[7] By August 1909 Cody had completed the last of his long series of modifications to the aircraft. Cody carried passengers for the first time on 14 August 1909, first his old workmate Capper, and then Lela Cody (Mrs Elizabeth Mary King).

A team of volunteer enthusiasts built a full-sized replica of British Army Aeroplane No 1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first flight. It is on permanent display at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum in Farnborough, UK.[8][9] The display is about three hundred metres from the take-off point of the historic flight.

On 29 December 1909 Cody became the first man to fly from Liverpool in an unsuccessful attempt to fly non-stop between Liverpool and Manchester. He set off from Aintree Racecourse at 12.16 p.m., but only nineteen minutes later was forced to land at Valencia Farm near to Eccleston Hill, St Helens, close to Prescot because of thick fog.[10]

On 7 June 1910 Cody received Royal Aero Club certificate number 9 using a newly built aircraft and won the Michelin Cup for the longest flight made in England during 1910 with a flight of 4 hours 47 minutes on 31 December. In 1911 a third aircraft was the only British plane to complete the Daily Mails "Circuit of Great Britain" air race, finishing fourth, for which achievement he was awarded the Silver Medal of the R.Ae.C. in 1912.[11] The Cody V machine with a new 120 hp (90 kW) engine won the £5,000 prize at the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition Military Trials on Salisbury Plain.

Cody continued to work on aircraft using his own funds. On 7 August 1913 he was test flying his latest design, the Cody Floatplane, when it broke up at 500 ft and he and his passenger (the cricketer William Evans) were both killed. He was buried with full military honours in the Aldershot Military Cemetery; the funeral procession drew an estimated crowd of 100,000.

Adjacent to Cody's own grave marker is a memorial to his only son, Samuel Franklin Leslie Cody, who joined the Royal Flying Corps and "fell in action fighting four enemy machines" in 1917.


See also



  • Kuntz, Jerry A Pair of Shootists: The Wild West Story of S. F. Cody and Maud Lee. Norman. OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010. ISBN 978 080614149 7
  • Lewis, P British Aircraft 1809-1914 London: Putnam, 1962.
  • Pawle, Gerald The Secret War 1939-45. London, Harrap, 1956.
  • Taylor, M.J.H. and Mondey, David Milestones of Flight. London: Jane's, 1983. ISBN 0 7106 0201 4

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Samuel Franklin Cody — Samuel Franklin Cody, wahrscheinlich aber Samuel Franklin Cowdery (* 6. März 1867[1] in Davenport, Iowa; † 7. August 1913 über Laffan´s Plain, Aldershot, Südengland, bei einem Flugzeugabsturz) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cody, Colonel Samuel Franklin — SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace [br] b. probably 6 March 1861 Texas, USA d. 7 August 1913 Farnborough, England [br] American (naturalised British) aviation pioneer who made the first sustained aeroplane flight in Britain. [br] Colonel Cody was one of the …   Biographical history of technology

  • Cody Mankite — Samuel Franklin Cody auf einem Kastendrachen Das Luftfahrzeug Cody Warkite war ein System zur Kriegsbeobachtung und entstand aus Samuel Franklin Codys Experimenten mit Drachen. Er ging dabei von Lawrence Hargrave s boxkite (Kastendrachen) aus,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cody Manlifting — Samuel Franklin Cody auf einem Kastendrachen Das Luftfahrzeug Cody Warkite war ein System zur Kriegsbeobachtung und entstand aus Samuel Franklin Codys Experimenten mit Drachen. Er ging dabei von Lawrence Hargrave s boxkite (Kastendrachen) aus,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cody V biplane — Cody V The second Cody V biplane preserved at the Science Museum, London Role …   Wikipedia

  • Cody monoplane — Cody IV Role Experimental aircraft National origin United Kingdom Designer Samuel Franklin Cody First flight 21 June 1912 Number built 1 The Cody IV monoplane was a single engined …   Wikipedia

  • Cody Warkite — Samuel Franklin Cody auf einem Kastendrachen Das Luftfahrzeug Cody Warkite war ein System zur Kriegsbeobachtung und entstand aus Samuel Franklin Codys Experimenten mit Drachen. Er ging dabei von Lawrence Hargrave s boxkite (Kastendrachen) aus,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cody Michelin Cup Biplane — Role Experimental aircraft Manufacturer SF Cody Designer SF Cody First flight April 1910 Number built 1 The Cody Michelin Cup Biplane was an experimental aircraft designed and built in Britain during 1910 by …   Wikipedia

  • Cody — is a surname and given name. It may also be spelled Codey, Codie, Codee, Kodi or Kody. Cody may refer to: Contents 1 People 1.1 Surname 1.2 First name …   Wikipedia

  • Cody — steht für: Cody Warkite, Fluggerät Cody (Sprung), ein Sprung im Trampolinturnen Cody Schmutzige Geschäfte, Film Orte in den Vereinigten Staaten: Cody (Florida) Cody (Missouri) Cody (Nebraska) Cody (Oklahoma) Cody (Virginia) Cody (Wyoming) Cody… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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