Alberto Santos-Dumont

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Santos-Dumont with motor of his No. 1 — which first flew in September 1898.

Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873–1932) was an aviator and inventor who came from Brazil to Paris at age 18. In 1901, Santos-Dumont won a 100,000 franc prize from Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe for piloting his airship (the Santos-Dumont No. 5) from the Parc Saint Cloud, around the Eiffel tower, and back. In 1904–1905 he experimented with gliders built by Les Frères Voisin.[1] He gained publicity for aeronautics and for himself by using an airship to navigate around Paris, for example leaving one moored above a restaurant while had lunch there.[2]

Santos-Dumont received a congratulations card from Thomas Edison which led to a meeting of the two inventors in 1902. According to newspaper reports of their conversation, Edison encouraged Santos-Dumont to move into heavier-than-air flight, said his batteries were too heavy to be used on airplanes, and that he, Edison, avoided aviation work because of his belief that aircraft were too difficult to patent and that inventors would therefore not get adequately paid for them.[3][4]

In 1904, Santos-Dumont published My Airships: The Story of My Life [1]. (1906: Dans l'air.)

On October 23, 1906, he flew his Model XIV bis 50 meters at the Bagatelle cavalry grounds, with members of the Aero Club of France in attendance. For this he won the 3000 franc Archdeacon prize and is credited with achieving the first heavier-than-air flight in Europe. For this accomplishment—which, unlike the Wright Brothers flights, were recognized by the FAI—he was widely celebrated as a pioneer of heavier-than-air flight.[1][5] The Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology calls the XIV-bis the "first airplane".[6]

In 1907–1909 he designed a series of lightweight monoplanes called the Demoiselles. These were relatively simple to build, and other aviators did build them, after Santos-Dumont released the schematics for free. Popular Mechanics published drawings of them in June 1910.[3]

Santos-Dumont participated in the First Pan-American Aeronautic Congress, held in 1916 at Santiago, Chile. He was prominent in the "Pan-American aeronautic movement": honorary president of the Pan-American Aeronautic Federation and chairman of the Committee on Pan-American Aeronautics of the Aero Club of America.[7][8]

Santos-Dumont was horrified by the violent uses to which aircraft were put, and his health declined in the 1910s and 1920s. He hanged himself in Brazil in 1932 after seeing the Brazilian government bomb its own citizens.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Henry Serrano Villard, Contact!: The Story of the Early Aviators; Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002 (unabridged version of original published by Smithsonian Institution, 1987); pp. 35–38.
  2. Hallion, 2003, p. 90. According to Hallion (p. 92), Santos-Dumont didn't exactly win the Eiffel Tower race, but he did get the prize: "Santos won the prize in a nail-biter of a flight that had at its very and a crisis Hollywood could not better: his engine quit less than a third of a mile from the Cloud, forcing him to walk out on the keel of his balloon—without a safety line or parachute—and make repairs. He finished just in time to cross the finish line 40 seconds too late—but de la Meurthe believed he deserved the prize anyway, and after a review of the flight, the Aéro-club agreed. Characteristically generous, he split the award: 54,000 francs to his mechanics, and 75,000 francs to the Paris police to be distributed among the city's nearly 4,000 registered beggars. The Brazilian government made up for his generosity by awarding the dapper little airman an identical prize, plus a large gold medal."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bento Silva de Mattos, "Open Source Philosophy and the Dawn of Aviation"; Journal of Aerospace Technology and Management 4(3), July–September 2012.
  4. Edison tells Dumont to get rid of balloons, 1902.
  5. Berriman, 1913, Aviation, p. 218. "[...] Santos Dumont, a Brazilian long resident in Paris, achieved the first officially observed flight recorded by the Aero Club of France on 23 October, 1906. This achievement, small though it was in itself—for the flight was really only a long jump of 164 ft.—nevertheless had a most important effect in firing enthusiasm all over the country, where, as a matter of fact, active experiment had been in progress for some time."
  6. Henrique Lins de Barris, "Santos-Dumont and the Invention of the Airplane"; / Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Fisicas / Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia, 2006.
  7. "Santos-Dumont to Head Pan-American Aeronautic Development: Sees Vast Possibilities in Latin-American Republics for American Aircraft Constructors"; Aerial Age Weekly, 25 August 1919; p. 1084.
  8. "First Pan American Aeronautic Exposition', Bulletin of the Pan American Union, Vol. 44, p. 96.
  9. Hallion, 2003, p. 93. "The First World War triggered increasing melancholia, as he held himself responsible for the violence of air warfare; accordingly, he destroyed many of his personal papers and documents tracing his role in aeronautics, to the everlasting loss of aviation history. As time went on he assumed culpability as well for other aviation disasters, particularly the loss of the British airship R 101 in 1930. In 1931, severely depressed and having already attempted suicide once, he sailed back to Brazil on the liner Cap Arcona, accompanied by his nephew. As the ship entered Rio harbor, the Santos Dumont, a Junkers seaplane carrying some of Brazil's most prominent and accomplished citizens, roared overhead in salute, then turned to land. Before his horrified gaze, it hooked a wingtip in the water, cartwheeled, and broke up, disappearing beneath the water in a spray of mist and kiling all on board. Santos called off all ceremonies and went off himself in a small boat to search for the accident victims. The next year revolution broke out in São Paolo; the knowledge that Brazilian was bombing Brazilian constituted the final straw, and this mentally tormented and physically sick pioneer hanged himself on July 23, 1932, at the age of 59, his death so shocking the nation that it led to a case-fire and eventual restoration of peace."


Publications by or about Alberto Santos-Dumont

Names Alberto Santos-Dumont
Birth date 1873
Death date 1932-07-23
Countries BR, FR
Locations Paris
Tech areas LTA, Dirigible
Wikidata id