Albert Francis Zahm

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Albert Francis Zahm (5 June 1862 – 23 July 1954) -- inventor, theoretician, and commentator from New Lexington, Ohio. Secretary of the Aero Club of Washington in 1911.[1]


  • Notre Dame, bachelor's degree in physics, 1883
  • Sibley College (Cornell), master's degree in engineering, 1892
  • Johns Hopkins University, PhD in physics, 1898

Zahm built airplanes, some model and some full-scale, while at Notre Dame. One hung from a 50-foot rope and was powered by bicycle pedals connected to a tractor propeller. However, he spent most of his career working on the theory of aerodynamics. He first met Octave Chanute when the latter spoke at Sibley College in 1890, and the two entered into regular correspondence. [5]

Initiated Aeronautical Navigation Conference at 1893 World's Fair and acted as secretary. Brought in Chanute as chairman.[2] Zahm was aware of previous key conferences, especially the First Exhibition of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain and the International Aeronautical Congress of 1889 in Paris. They wanted to follow these precedents and improve on them by using the occasion to compile useful technical information.[6]

The Washington Post in 1905 called Zahm "one of the highest authorities on aeronautics in the world" (apparently intending no pun) and quoted him as saying "the next six years or so will see a man keeping his flying machine as he now keeps his automobile" and that dirigible balloons "have reached nearly as high a stage of development as they could be expected to attain."[7]

In 1911 Zahm published Aerial Navigation: A Popular Treatise on the Growth of Air Craft and on Aëronautical Meteorology. The New York Times credited the book for connecting the rapid contemporary progress of airplanes with their antecedents going back to Da Vinci.[1]

In 1912 Zahm led the Aero Club of Washington in organizing a military air show at the College Park field.[8]

In 1915 he became chief engineer for Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Corp, to which one of his patents (Patent US-1922-1406600) is assigned.[4] He learned to fly in 1914 at the Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport.[4] He backed Curtiss in his patent dispute with the Wright Brothers[2] and in his theoretical writing (see Zahm, 1944) downplayed the significance of the Wrights' achievement.

In 1917 the United States Navy hired Zahm as director of its Aeronautical Laboratory.[9]

Taught mathematics and mechanics at Notre Dame from 1885–1892; taught at Catholic University from 1895–1908. "Among his inventions are the three-torque control for airplanes, the wire tensiometer, the vectorgraph prottractor, the three-component amenograph and aerodynamic balances."[4]

In 1925 received Laetare medal from Notre Dame University.[10] In 1930 received Mendel Medal from Villanova.[4]

Underwritten by the Guggenheim fund, Zahm chaired the Division of Aeronautics at the Library of Congress (a joint project with the Smithsonian?) and oversaw a vast collection of aeronautical materials, including the libraries of Langley and James Means.[2][11]

Patents whose inventor or applicant is Albert Francis Zahm

Publications by or about Albert Francis Zahm


  • 1898. The resistance of the air determined at speeds below one thousand feet a second, with description of two new methods of measuring projectile velocities inside and outside the gun. Dissertation submitted at Johns Hopkins University. (Full-text PDF at Internet Archive.)
  • 1904. "Atmospheric friction with special reference to aeronautics". Read before the Philosophical Society of Washington, 27 February 1904.
  • 1911. Aerial Navigation: A Popular Treatise on the Growth of Air Craft and on Aëronautical Meteorology. New York and London: D. Appleton and Company. (Full-text scan at Internet Archive)
  • 1914. Report on European aeronautical laboratories, with eleven plates. Smithsonian Institution. (Read online at HathiTrust.)
  • 1915. The First Man-Carrying Airplane Capable of Sustained Free Flight: Langley's Success as a Pioneer in Aviation. Government Printing Office. From Smithsonian Report for 1914. (Full-text PDF at Internet Archive.)
  • 1919. Development of an Aircraft Incidence Meter. J. B. Lippincott Company. Reprinted from Journal of the Franklin Institute, November 1919. (Full-text PDF at Internet Archive.)
  • 1931. Origin and progress of the Division of Aeronautics. Government Printing Office. (HathiTrust; on WorldCat.)
  • 1944/1945. "Conspectus of Early Powerplane Development". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington D.C., Vol. 46/46.
  • 1950. Aeronautical papers, 1885-1945. University of Notre Dame.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Far Aloft With Two Winged Men", New York Times, 24 December 1911.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Hallion, 2003, p. 171–172
  3. Crouch, 1981, p. 78.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Dr. Albert Zahm, Aviation Pioneer: Notre Dame Scientist Dead at 92—Built Wind Tunnel 20 Years Before First Flight", New York Times, 24 JUly 1954.
  5. Crouch, 1981, p. 79.
  6. Crouch, 1981, p. 81. "Albert Zahm had followed the growth of the congress idea in the Chicago papers. It seemed to him that such a conference on aeronautics might substantially increase interest in the subject. And there was precedent for such a gathering. The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain's Exhibition of 1868 had been the first attempt to attract an international audience of flying-machine experimenters. Chanute had attended the Second International Congress of Aeronautics and Aviators in Paris in 1889. Zahm envisioned a meeting that would surpass both of these, establishing a baseline of solid, trustworthy technical data from which all flying-machine work could proceed. In addition, such a gathering of reputable technologists and scientists would draw favorable public attention to aeronautics."
  7. "Will Be Autos in Air: Their Debut Is Near at Hand, Says Prof. Zahm: Aerodynamics His Study: Member of Catholic University Faculty Who Is Looked Upon as an Expert and Authority on Airships, Although He Has Never Made One—Thinks Balloons Have Reached Their Limit." Washington Post, 22 January 1905.
  8. "Aeros Flit in Clouds", Washington Post, 23 June 1912.
  9. Haas & Silberg, 2011, Birth of U.S. Naval Aeronautics
  10. "Dr. Albert F. Zahm Honored for Work in Field of Aviation: Laetare Medal Is Presented to Aeronautical Engineer of U.S. Navy", '"Washington Post, 21 June 1925.
  11. Origin and Progress of the Division of Aeronautics, GPO 1931

Names Albert Francis Zahm
Birth date 1862-06-05
Death date 1954-07-23
Countries US
Locations Washington, DC; South Bend, Indiana
Occupations professor
Tech areas Airplane, Wind tunnel, Aerodynamics
Affiliations Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation, Aeronautical Laboratory, U.S. Navy, Cosmos Club
Wikidata id