The Transcontinental Air Race of 1919 began began 100 years ago today, on October 8, 1919. It was the longest airplane race ever attempted (up to that point) and was followed closely by the public via the newspapers.
It even ended up having an influence on baby names: the boy name that saw the steepest rise in usage in 1919, Belvin, was the name of the winning pilot.
- 1921 – 13 baby boys named Belvin
- 1920 – 10 baby boys named Belvin
- 5 in N.C. specifically
- 1919 – 23 baby boys named Belvin [peak]
- 6 in N.C. specifically
- 1918 – 5 baby boys named Belvin
- 1917 – 5 baby boys named Belvin
Belvin Womble Maynard was born in North Carolina in 1892. He’d gone to school to become a Baptist minister in the early 1910s, but ended up discovering an aptitude for piloting airplanes while stationed in France during WWI.
Not long after returning to the U.S. in the summer of 1919, Maynard entered and won an air race from Long Island, New York, to Toronto, Canada.
Following that success, the “flying parson” (as he’d been dubbed by the press) entered an even more ambitious air race: the Army Air Service’s “Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test.” It required that entrants cross the nation not once, but twice.
Sixty-three planes entered. Most of them (48) started in New York and headed west, while the rest (15) started in San Francisco and headed east.
Maynard, his mechanic, and his dog (Trixie) took off from New York at the start of the contest. They were the first to reach California, on October 11.
They stayed until the 15th, then headed back toward the East Coast. On the return trip their engine failed, which could have cost them the race…but they cleverly replaced it with the engine of a wrecked plane nearby (that had been participating in the very same race). They made it back to New York on October 18 and were declared the winners.
(As for the other entrants, only about half of them completed the race. In total there were 54 accidents and seven deaths.)
For a time, Belvin Maynard was a national hero. The first commercial airfield in North Carolina, which opened in December of 1919, was named “Maynard Field” in his honor.
But sadly, in mid-1922, several weeks before his 30th birthday, Belvin was killed when his plane crashed during an air show in Vermont.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Belvin?
Sources: Belvin W. Maynard – Early Aviators, Billy Mitchell and the Great Transcontinental Air Race of 1919, Belvin Maynard – NCpedia, International Aerial Derby 1919 – General Aviation News, Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, The Great Transcontinental Air Race – HistoryNet
Images: from the Morning Oregonian (11 Oct. 1919, page 5) and St. Nicholas magazine (Dec.1919, page 173)
[More aviator-inspired baby names: Vilas, Maitland, Lindbergh]