Little Bits of History

The Cow Flew Not Quite Over the Moon

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 18, 2015
International Air Exposition

International Aircraft Exposition

February 18, 1930: Nellie Jay takes a plane ride. The International Aircraft Exposition was held from February 15th through the 23rd in the St. Louis, Missouri Arena. Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle was part of the Shell gasoline sponsored event. Doolittle was born in 1896 in California and was an American aviation pioneer. During World War I, he stayed in the states as a flight instructor. He was selected by three officers for retention after the War ended. In 1921, he located a plane which had force landed in a canyon during a transcontinental flight. He was able to repair the plane and then flew it out of the Mexican canyon, taking off from a 400-yard airstrip hacked out of the canyon floor.

He was one of the most famous pilots of the era. In 1922, he made the first of many pioneering flights when he flew from Pablo Beach, Jacksonville Beach today, Florida to San Diego, California in 21 hours and 19 minutes making only one stop for fuel. He was assigned to what is today known as the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio. He was able to help build the planes of the future. Pilots and engineers had not had a good working relationship prior to this and it was a crucial step in making improved planes. He was also able to serve as a test pilot the planes being engineered. He was famous and a big draw for the 1930 Air Exposition.

He was not the focus of today’s event. Instead, Nellie Jay became a star. After her flight, she became known as Sky Queen. She was the first cow to file in an airplane. She flew 72 miles from Bismarck, Missouri to St. Louis in a Ford Trimotor. While aloft, she was milked, making that a first as well. The whole idea was proposed as a way for scientists to observe midair effect on animals. It was also a huge publicity stunt. Also called Elm Farm Ollie (she apparently had several aliases), she was a highly productive Guernsey cow and required three milkings a day. On this flight, she produced 24 quarts of milk.

Elsworth W Bunce was the man on the plane who was given the task of milking the cow and he also made the record books as the first to milk a cow on a plane. He was chosen for this historic event because his father worked for the American Guernsey Cattle Club. The milk was sealed into paper cartons and these were parachuted to spectators on the ground. Legend states that Charles Lindbergh received one of the cartons of milk from the flight. The tale of the Guernsey cow has largely been kept alive in Wisconsin which is more noted as a dairy state even though the cow was a native of Missouri. Some Madison, Wisconsin residents who belonged to the Elm Farm Ollie Fan Club commissioned an opera to be written about the day’s events. It was called Madam Butterfat.

If we should have to fight, we should be prepared to so so from the neck up instead of from the neck down. – Jimmy Doolittle

Elsworth W. Bunce, former Journal carrier and graduate of West Division High School, has the distinction of being the first man to milk a cow in an airplane flight. – Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal

Her [Nellie Jay] story was picked up out of Wisconsin and they celebrate this every year. What gets me the most, though, is the kind of planes they had back then. You know, for 1930, it had to be a pretty big airplane to pick up a cow of that size. – Mark Hedrick

She [Nellie Jay] was a really gentle cow, but of course she had to be in order to get in that airplane. – William Fields Grider

Also on this day: Michelangelo – In 1564, the great Renaissance man died.
#3 – In 2001, Dale Earnhardt died in a NASCAR crash.
Talking and Talking – In 1841, the first filibuster was used in the US Senate.
Mass Murder – In 1983, the Wah Mee Massacre took place.
Huck – In 1885, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published.

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