glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

Bookmark and Share
Santos-Dumont, Alberto (1873-1932)  
page: 1  2  3  

Is a gay Brazilian--rather than the American brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright--actually most responsible for modern aviation? Such a question leads us on a fascinating trip from South America through belle époque Paris, around the Eiffel Tower, and into what we know of Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Brazilian dandy who is regarded by many as the father of modern aviation and the inventor of the airplane. While his sexuality is a matter of controversy, suspicions of his homosexuality may have contributed to a neglect of his achievement.

Early Life and Aviation Pioneer

Born in Cabangu, Minas Gerais, Brazil on July 20, 1873, Santos was the son of a coffee tycoon father and an upper-class mother. His father's interest in high-tech machinery for use in the coffee trade led to Santos's early fascination with trains and steam-powered locomotives, which he learned to drive before the age of 10.

Sponsor Message.

The novels of French science-fiction writer Jules Verne were among the boy's favorite childhood reading and informed his mechanical interests. Indeed, Santos's visionary genius, delicate nature, and pacific temperament allied to make his life seem a fantastic narrative written by the French master.

As a teenager in 1888 Santos made his first aerial ascent in a tethered balloon at the São Paolo state fair. Two years later he accompanied his father on a trip to Paris, where he saw for the first time the newly-invented gasoline engine, an object he regarded with fascination. In 1892 Santos's father, disabled by an industrial accident, gave Alberto his own fortune, the independent means that the young inventor used to finance his research. He embarked for Paris to study mechanical arts and engineering. His father allegedly hoped that the experience of Paris would "make a man out of him."

Since the price of a flight-capable balloon was prohibitive, Santos-Dumont bought himself an automobile (he is credited with bringing the first gasoline-powered automobile to Brazil on one of his trips home). When he learned that the Parisian balloon-maker Lachambre had reduced the cost of his balloons, Santos purchased one and made his own first ascent, accompanied by Lachambre, on March 23, 1898.

His twin interests in balloon flight and gasoline-powered engines led Santos-Dumont to construct his first two dirigibles (or "directables," after the French verb diriger, to direct or steer). His first flight, in the craft he called No. 1, ended with his barely escaping injury when the vehicle struck tree branches. For his No. 2 and No. 3 balloons, Santos--despite the obvious risk of fire from flammable gas--suspended a rigid frame from the gas bag, into which he put a gasoline engine. Utilizing this design in his dirigible No. 6, Santos achieved the first powered air flight known to history--at least in Europe.

Santos's success made him an overnight sensation in Paris, leading petroleum baron Henry Deutsch de la Muerthe to offer a 100,000-franc prize to whoever could leave Parc Saint Cloud under his power, circumnavigate the Eiffel Tower, and return in less than 30 minutes. French Aero Club members constituted the panel of judges and controlled the award.

After several tries, Santos-Dumont made the prescribed trip on October 19, 1901 in his dirigible No. 6 and received the Deutsch Prize. Photographs show the cigar-shaped craft above the 100-story tower, with Parisian throngs below waving their hats in admiration of le petit Santos (who stood only 5'1" and weighed only 100 pounds). In a characteristic act of generosity, Santos gave the 100,000-franc prize to his workers and the Parisian poor.

Superstitious about the number eight, Santos skipped that digit in his sequence of craft as he improved and enlarged his earlier designs. No. 9 formed an integral, aerial part in the Bastille Day Parade of 1903. No. 10 was capable of holding 12 passengers; No. 11 was a two-motor design; No. 12 was a two-rotor helicopter.

Of the two aircraft with the number 14, it was the 14B (or 14-bis, as it is known by its French name) that became Santos's first heavier-than-aircraft to actually fly. On October 23, 1906, he won the Ernest Archdeacon Cup for a flight of at least 25 meters by flying about 50 meters under his own power. Several weeks later, on November 12, he flew a distance of 220 meters, winning the Aero Club's 1500-franc prize for a self-propelled flight over 220 meters.

    page: 1  2  3   next page>  
zoom in
Top: A portrait of Alberto Santos-Dumont.
Center: A powered dirigible piloted by Santos near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Above: Santos flying aircraft number 14-bis in 1906.

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel




This Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.