Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 15, 2013
Will Rogers

Will Rogers

August 15, 1935: Beloved Humorist and World Famous Pilot are killed in a plane crash. Will Rogers was not only funny but a social commentator and actor. Wiley Post was the first to fly solo around the world in 1933. Post began his career as a parachutist for Burrell Tibbs and His Topnotch Fliers. In 1926, just short of his 28th birthday, he lost his left eye in an oil field accident. He used his settlement to purchase his first plane. He first met Will Rogers while flying him to a rodeo and the two became friends.

Post, using a wealthy oilman’s plane, won the National Air Race Derby in 1930 making the LA to Chicago flight in 9 hours, 9 minutes, and 4 seconds. After Graf Zeppelin’s trip around the world (see August 8), Post had a new goal. Post and his navigator, Harold Gatty, left Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York on June 23, 1931 and returned 8 days, 15 hours, 51 minutes later having covered 15,474 miles. Using a self-installed autopilot and a radio compass, Post made the same trip alone in 1933 in 7 days and 19 hours – 21 hours less than the previous record – and he did it alone. He also was interested in high-altitude flight and helped to develop a functional pressure suit.

William Penn Adair Rogers was born in Oologah, Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. He was so adept with a lariat, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing three at once. He worked in vaudeville and migrated to the movies; he was in 71 movies – 50 silent films and 21 talkies. He also wrote more than 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns. He was a poor student, being more interested in cowboys, horses, and the lariat. It paid off. He traveled around the world three times thrilling audiences with rope tricks, his sparkling wit, and commentary on the state of the world.

In 1935, Post was interested in a mail-and-passenger air route from the west coast to Russia. Without enough cash to buy a plane, he cobbled together parts from two different Lockheed aircraft, an Orion and a wrecked experimental Explorer. He used the non-retractable landing gear to make it a float plane. Rogers visited Post in California and they agreed to fly together up to Alaska, Rogers looking for new topics for his columns. Because some parts did not arrive in time, others were used making the plane nose-heavy. During some bad weather, Post landed on a lagoon to ask directions. The engine failed during takeoff and the nose heavy plane disintegrated as it crashed into the water, killing both men instantly.

“Civilization has taught us to eat with a fork, but even now if nobody is around we use our fingers.”

“I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.”

“An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.”

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” – all from Will Rogers

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Will Rogers was slightly more than ¼ Cherokee, both parents providing the lineage. His mother died when he was just 11 and his father remarried two years later. Will was the youngest of eight children but he and three of his sisters were the only ones to survive to adulthood. His father served as a Cherokee judge and in the senate. He also served as a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Rogers County is named after Clement Rogers and not his more famous son. Will began his showman career as a trick roper with “Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus” and after a short time left for Australia with Texas Jack’s blessing and recommendation letter to work in a circus there. He worked as both a roper and rider and eventually returned to the US and began his Vaudeville career.

Also on this day: Yasgur’s Farm – In 1969, Woodstock begins.
Military Precision – In 1995, Shannon Faulkner arrives at the Citadel.
Macbeth – In 1057, King Macbeth was killed.

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