James Means

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James Means (1853–1920) was an aero inventor, author, and entrepreneur from Dorchester, Massachusetts.

He attended Phillips-Andover and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then went into shoe manufacturing, which proved lucrative enough to fund aeronautics work after he retired in 1893 at age 40.[1] He experimented with kites and gliders.[2]

Means read widely on aeronautics, preparing the way for his compilation of the Aeronautical Annuals (three volumes) in 1895–1897. An Epitome of the Annuals was released in 1910.[2] In 1894 published a pamphlet titled "The Problem of Manflight", arguing enthusiastically for the development of mechanical soaring flight.

He cofounded the Boston Aeronautical Society in 1895.[2]

His son, James Howard Means, wrote a book called James Means and the Problem of Manflight: During the Period 1882–1920. According to this book, the elder Means gave up writing Annuals because they didn't sell very well.[2]

The collected papers of Means are held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.[2]

Patents whose inventor or applicant is James Means

Publications by or about James Means

Letters sent by James Means

Letters received by James Means


Two claims in Hallion, 2003 raise questions:

1. That Means's Aeronautical Annuals "have been likened" to the "New Testament" of early aeronautics literature (following Chanute's 1894 Chanute, 1894, Progress in Flying Machines). Who did the likening? And does this make sense considering that they were published at nearly the same time.

2. That Means "was far less successful as an inventor" than as a commentator on aviation. Yet he secured a boatload of patents. These were all issued in 1909–1911 so maybe they're off Hallion's radar. (Or could they belong to his son of the same name? Seems unlikely.)

And why did Means end up getting a slew of patents at this time and this time only?


  1. Hallion, 2003, pp. 173–174.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Paul Edward Garber, Book Review of James Means and the Problem of Manflight, Technology and Culture Vol. 8, No. 1, January 1967.