Alberto Santos-Dumont

Alberto Santos-Dumont
Alberto Santos-Dumont portrait.jpg
c. 1902
Born(1873-07-20)20 July 1873
Palmira, Minas Gerais, Empire of Brazil
Died23 July 1932(1932-07-23) (aged 59)
Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil
Resting placeSão João Batista Cemetery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
OccupationAviator, inventor
HonoursGrand Officier de la Légion d'honneur
Assinatura do Santos Dumont 2.png

Alberto Santos-Dumont (Portuguese: [awˈbɛʁtu ˈsɐ̃tuz duˈmõ]; 20 July 1873 – 23 July 1932, usually referred to as simply Santos-Dumont) was a Brazilian inventor and aviation pioneer, one of the very few people to have contributed significantly to the development of both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air aircraft.

The heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers, Santos-Dumont dedicated himself to aeronautical study and experimentation in Paris, where he spent most of his adult life.In his early career he designed, built, and flew hot air balloons and early dirigibles, culminating in his winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 for a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower.He then turned to heavier-than-air machines, and on 23 October 1906 his 14-bis made the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe to be certified by the Aéro-Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.His conviction that aviation would usher in an era of worldwide peace and prosperity led him to freely publish his designs and forego patenting his various innovations.

Santos-Dumont is a national hero in Brazil, where it is popularly held that he preceded the Wright brothers in demonstrating a practical airplane. Countless roads, plazas, schools, monuments, and airports there are dedicated to him, and his name is inscribed on the Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom.He was a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1931 until his suicide in 1932.

Early life


Childhood home

Santos-Dumont was born on 20 July 1873 in Cabangu in the Brazilian town of Palmira (today named Santos Dumont) in the state of Minas Gerais in southeast Brazil. He was youngest of the seven children born to Henrique Dumont, an engineer of French descent, and Francisca de Paula Santos. Santos-Dumont's father managed a coffee plantation on land owned by his wife's family, and later bought land in Ribeirão Preto on which he established a plantation of his own.[1] His extensive use of labor-saving inventions earned him a fortune, and he was known for a time as the "Coffee King of Brazil."

Santos-Dumont was fascinated by machinery, and while still a child he learned to drive the plantation's steam tractors and locomotives. He also read a great deal of the works of Jules Verne. He wrote in his autobiography that the dream of flying came to him while contemplating the magnificent skies of Brazil from the plantation.[2]

After basic instruction with private tutors, Santos-Dumont studied for a time at the Colégio Culto à Ciência in Campinas, after which he was sent to the Colégio Morton in São Paulo and the Escola de Minas in Minas Gerais.[3]

Move to France

Caricature from Vanity Fair, 1899
Santos Dumont´s Passport, 1919

In 1891 Santos-Dumont's father was partially paralyzed by a fall from a horse. He sold the plantation and went to Europe with his wife and Santos-Dumont in search of treatment.[4] In Paris, Santos-Dumont contacted a balloonist with the intention of making an ascent. The price quoted was 1,200 francs for a two-hour flight, plus payment for any damage caused and for returning the balloon to Paris. This was a considerable sum of money, and Santos-Dumont decided not to make the flight, reasoning that "If I risk 1,200 francs for an afternoon's pleasure I shall find it either good or bad. If it is bad the money will be lost. If it is good I shall want to repeat it and I shall not have the means."[5] After this he bought a Peugeot automobile, which he took with him when he returned to Brazil with his parents at the end of the year.

In 1892 the family returned to Europe, but Henriques felt too ill to continue on to Paris from Lisbon, and Alberto made the journey on his own. His father's health deteriorated and he decided to return to Brazil, where he died on 30 August 1892.[6]

For the next four years Alberto lived in Paris, studying physics, chemistry, mechanics, and electricity with the help of a private tutor, and returning to Brazil for short holidays. During this period he sold his Peugeot, replacing it with a more powerful and faster De Dion motor-tricycle.[7] In 1896 he returned to Brazil for a longer period, but began to miss Paris and so returned to Europe in 1897. Before embarking he had bought a copy of an account of Salomon Andrée's attempt to fly to the North Pole by balloon, written by the constructors of the balloon, MM. Lachambre and Machuron. In his biography Santos-Dumont describes the book as "a revelation", and resolved to make contact with the balloon constructors when he reached Paris.[8]

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