|Special Collections Home > Collections > University Archives|
THE W.K. KELLOGG AIRPORT
Walter H. Roeder
Two pioneer aviators, Calbraith "Cal" Rodgers and Charles A. Lindbergh, played prominent roles in the background history of the W.K. Kellogg Airport. In 1911, less than eight years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, Cal Rodgers became the first pilot to fly coast-to-coast. On September 17th Rodgers started from Sheepshead Bay, New York in a competition to win a $50,000 prize offered by William Randolph Hearst to anyone who could fly coast-to-coast in 30 days or less [See editorial update at end of References]. No one won the prize but Rodgers was the only pilot to complete the flight which lasted 49 days and ended at Pasadena at 4:08 p.m. on November 5, 1911 (Harris, 1964, p.81). His final stop before Pasadena was a landing at Newton's field, west of Pomona, the afternoon of November 5th to refuel and check his engine ("First Trans-Continental Aviator," 1911). Cal Rodgers was killed on April 3, 1912 near Long Beach when his plane hit a flock of sea gulls and plunged into the ocean. To honor the accomplishment of Rodgers the Kellogg Airport beacon was named the Rodgers Beacon and the field was dedicated to his memory.
Charles A. Lindbergh's May 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris stirred interest in aviation and sparked Mr. Kellogg's desire to build an airport on his ranch.
Mr Kellogg's interest in aviation started in 1913 or 1914. A story in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin reported, "His first plane ride was taken in 1913 in a crude heavier-than-air craft in which the pilot and the passenger sat out in front of the unwieldy machine. Mr. Kellogg enjoyed telling of the real thrill given him in that trip" ("Kellogg Airport Construction," 1928). Parkinson (1975) reports: "Norman Williamson Jr. (grandson of W.K. Kellogg) recalls that Mr. Kellogg had his first flight in about 1914, probably at Brown Field near San Diego (p. 113).
In the summer of 1927 Charles A. Lindbergh started on a 22,350 mile nationwide tour with his monoplane "The Spirit of St. Louis." The purpose of the tour was to publicize air travel and to encourage the establishment of airports and landing fields (Mosley, 1976, p. 124). Mr. Kellogg offered to donate 200 acres for an emergency landing field if Lindbergh would fly over the ranch and circle the proposed landing field. Earl H. Rathbun, Mr. Kellogg's personal representative, sent a telegram to D.E. Kehoe, Lindbergh's aide in San Francisco and received the following reply:
After Los Angeles County Fair officials heard about this telegram they also extended an invitation to Colonel Lindbergh to circle the fairgrounds. Preparations began at the Kellogg Ranch to mark the landing field so that Lindbergh could circle the exact area. Letters which measured 50 feet in height were constructed out of bunting. They spelled: W.K. Kellogg, E.A. No. 1. The abbreviation E.A. was for Emergency Airport
On September 21, 1927 Lindbergh circled the Kellogg Ranch and the fairgrounds. The people in the Pomona area took a holiday to witness this historic event. Schools and most businesses were closed. Only the banks, the post office and the canneries remained open ("Lindbergh Flies Over Fair," 1927).
The Pomona Progress-Bulletin reported:
Mr. Rathbun sent a telegram to Mr. Kellogg notifying him that Lindbergh had circled the field. Rathbun then left for San Diego to consult with Colonel Lindbergh regarding the size of the field and other details. Mr. Rathbun stated "everything, of course is subject to Mr. Kellogg's approval" ("Ranch Airport," 1927).
A survey of the field was made by E.M. Curtis, U.S. Department of Commerce. A topographic map was sent to W.K. Kellogg. The Pomona Progress-Bulletin reported, "the runway which may extend diagonally across the field to make it longer would be of crushed stone... The remainder of the field would be hard packed and rolled sod" ("Expert Completes Survey," 1928).
Before work started on the field a beacon which was mounted on a 60 foot tower located in Covina was moved to a hill 25 feet northwest of the cement water reservoir above the Kellogg Mansion (University House). Officials of the Bureau of Aeronautics and the Department of Commerce decided to relocate the beacon because the Kellogg Ranch was directly under the path traveled by transcontinental airlines while Covina was about six miles off the flight path ("Order Covina Beacon Dismantled," 1928). No trace of the beacon remains today.
The Pomona Progress-Bulletin announced that the beacon would be named the Rodgers Beacon in honor of the pioneer aviator. A description of the beacon's lighting at 7:30 p.m. on May 7, 1928 was broadcast by radio so that Mr. Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan could hear the ceremony ("Airmail Beacon to be Lighted," 1928).
The Pomona Chamber of Commerce became officially tied in with the Kellogg Airport when the Chamber agreed to pay the electric bill for lights around the landing field. Mr. E.C. Houston, manager of the Southern California Edison Company, estimated that the bill for lighting the field would not be more than $15 per month ("Chamber of Commerce," 1928).
Plans were moving ahead toward a July date for the dedication ceremony. In May harvesters cut the barley which was growing on the proposed runway and in June the lighting system around the field was installed ("Contract Let," 1928).
The Airport dedication ceremony was held on July 14, 1928. The 1,500 people who attended heard Cal Rodgers eulogized, viewed 27 private and military airplanes, and saw movie stars Wallace Beery and Reginald Denny and trans-Atlantic flyer Ruth Elder ("Throng at Kellogg Airport Dedication," 1928). Pomona radio station, KFWC, broadcast the ceremonies by remote control and Mr. Kellogg heard it by private telephone wire in his home (Parkinson, 1975, p.131). Mr. Kellogg had spent several thousand dollars on construction of the airport and now it was opened for the public use of all pilots.
Local newspaper accounts of pilots who landed at the field for fuel or water indicate that the airport was busy soon after it opened. U.S. Army flight instructors from March Field, Riverside had their students practice landings and takeoffs at the airport during flying lessons.
The Airport was often the site of publicity photographs of Mr. Kellogg's guests such as movie actor Arthur Stone and his wife who flew to the ranch to ride the Arabian horses. Occasionally a dirigible would land at the airport which presented another photo opportunity for movie stars and Arabian horses.
The most dramatic use of the airport occurred one month after the dedication. Two U.S. Army officers, Colonel William Thaw and Captain John Morris were flying from March Field, Riverside to Los Angeles when faulty ignition set their engine on fire. They were flying at 5,000 feet and rather than parachuting to safety they decided to battle the flames with a fire extinguisher. Colonel Thaw flew the plane while Captain Morris fought the fire. The plane was brought to the ground as quickly as possible and the fire completely extinguished after they landed. The Pomona Progress-Bulletin reported that the two officers, "by dint of almost superhuman courage and nerves of steel, won a desperate race with death in its most hideous form" ("Army Plane Ablaze," 1928).
Two events signaled the end of the airport era at the Kellogg Ranch. The first event was the dedication of the Burnley Airport on July 29, 1928, just two weeks after the Kellogg Airport opened. The Burnley Airport occupied 20 acres on Garey Avenue south of the Pomona city limits. It became known as the Pomona Airport and was active until it closed in 1950. The second event occurred on May 17, 1932 when Mr. Kellogg donated the Arabian Horse Ranch, 87 horses and $600,000 to the state of California for the use of the University of California. The name of the facility changed to the W.K. Kellogg Institute of Animal Husbandry. On December 31, 1932 the W.K. Kellogg Emergency Airport No. 1 was officially closed. The landing field reverted to agricultural use and a colorful period of ranch history ended (Parkinson, 1975, p. 195).
Airmail Beacon to be Lighted Tonight. (1928, May 7). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 1.
Army Plane Ablaze in Mid-Air, Flyers Escape Death. (1928, August 3). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p 12.
Chamber of Commerce. Pledges Aid in Airport Plans. (1928, March 14). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 8.
Contract Let; Begin Work on Kellogg Airport Monday. (1928, June 16). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 8.
Department of Commerce. Aeronautics Branch. (1929). W.K. Kellogg Airport (Airway Bulletin No. 602). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Expert Completes Survey of Proposed Local Airport. (1928, January 21). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 10.
First Trans-Continental Aviator Welcomed Here. (1911, November 6). Pomona Progress, p. 6.
Harris, S. (1964, October). Coast to Coast in 12 Crashes. American Heritage, pp. 46-49, 76-81.
Kellogg Airport Construction to Begin Soon. (1928. May 10). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 1.
Lindbergh Flies Over Fair. (1927, September 21). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 1.
Mosley, L. (1976). Lindbergh: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday
Order Covina Beacon Dismantled; to be Moved Here. (1928, April 28). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 2.
Parkinson, M J. (1975). The Kellogg Arabian Ranch: The First Fifty Years: A Chronicle of Events, 1925-1975. Anaheim: Arabian Horse Association of Southern California.
Ranch Airport Held Assured. (1927, September 22). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 3.
Thousands Cheer Lindbergh in Flight Over Valley. (1927, September 22). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 3.
Throng at Kellogg Airport Dedication. (1928, July 14). Pomona Progress-Bulletin, p. 1.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers was not the only pilot to complete the transcontinental flight started as part of William Randolph Hearst's challenge in 1911.
Robert Fowler flew from Wiltshire Field in Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, while Rodgers flew from Governor's island in New York City to Pasadena and eventually to Long Beach. They were the only two contestants in the original Hearst race to make the full distance. Fowler had earlier attempted to fly from San Francisco and travel over the Sierra to Reno, but the small, frail airplane couldn't overcome the front range winds.
There are many sites that will attest to Fowler's flight. Here are some of the definitive sources:
(Robert Fowler began another west-to-east transcontinental flight on October 19, this time taking a southern route to avoid the mountains. He arrived in Jacksonville, Florida, on February 8, 1912, completing the trip in more than twice as many days as Rodgers.)
Site has bio, photos, and comments about Fowler. NASM recognizes this site as definitive.
The Other Transcontinental Flight. NASM recognizes this site as definitive]
University Library Special Collections