Thomas Sackett/Scott Baldwin

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Thomas Sackett/Scott Baldwin

Also Known As: "Captain Tom"
Birthdate: (65)
Birthplace: Illinois, United States
Death: May 17, 1923 (65)
Deaconness' Hospital, Buffalo, Erie, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Arlington, Arlington, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Dr. Samuel Yates Baldwin and Elizabeth Jane Sidebotham
Husband of Caroline Pool
Father of Thomas Alexander Baldwin
Brother of Sacket Baldwin; Yates Baldwin; Samuel Yates Baldwin; Emma Jane Baldwin and Edith Baldwin

Occupation: aviation & ballooning pioneer, US Air Force, inventorr
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Thomas Sackett/Scott Baldwin

Thomas Scott Baldwin (June 30, 1854 – May 17, 1923) was a pioneer balloonist and U.S. Army major during World War I. He was the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute.

Early career

He was born on June 30, 1854 to Jane and Samuel Yates Baldwin. He worked as a brakeman on the Illinois railroad, then joined a circus working as an acrobat. In 1875 he started an act combining trapeze and a hot air balloon. On January 30, 1885 he made one of the earliest recorded parachute jumps from a balloon.

Powered balloons

In 1900, Baldwin created a motorized balloon. He used a motorcycle engine built by Glenn Hammond Curtiss and an aerodynamic cigar-shaped, hydrogen filled, balloon. He created the dirigible "California Arrow", which underwent the first controlled circular flight in America on August 3, 1904. The aircraft was piloted by Roy Knabenshue at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. The Army Signal Corps paid him $10,000 for a dirigible that could be used for sustained and controlled navigation. Baldwin created a dirigible that was 95 feet (29 m) long and powered by a new, more powerful Curtiss engine. The Army bought it and designated its first dirigible "SC-I" (Signal Corps Dirigible Number 1). Baldwin picked up the sobriquet: "Father of the American Dirigible." He received the Aero Club of America's first balloon pilot certificate.


In 1910 Baldwin designed his own airplane, and it was built by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. It used a 25 horsepower (19 kW), four-cylinder Curtiss engine that was later replaced by a Curtiss V-8 engine.

On September 10, 1910 Baldwin made history with the first airplane flight over the Mississippi River. The St. Louis flight started just east of Bellefontaine Cemetery. Baldwin and his Red Devil plane took off at 5:11 p.m. 200,000 citizens lined the riverfront on both sides to watch the red biplane fly from the north St. Louis field and land in Illinois across the river from Arsenal Street. On the return flight, the aviator astounded the crowds by flying under both the Eads and McKinley bridges at fifty miles per hour. Baldwin landed at 6:05 back at his starting place.

Baldwin flew it at an air meet in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 7, 1910 and October 8, 1910 then took his airplane to Belmont, New York. He put together a company of aerial performers including J.C. "Bud" Mars and Tod Shriver in December 1910 and toured countries in Asia, making the first airplane flights in many of those locations. The troupe returned to the United States in the spring of 1911.

Red Devil (see photo under 'Media')

Main article: Baldwin Red Devil

When he returned from the Pacific tour, Baldwin began testing a new airplane at Mineola, New York. The new aircraft was similar to the basic Curtiss Pusher design but was constructed of steel tubing instead of wood. The aircraft was constructed by C. and A. Wittemann of Staten Island, New York, and was powered by a 60 horsepower (45 kW), Hall-Scott V-8. It was capable of 60 mph (97 km/h). Baldwin named his new aircraft the "Red Devil III", and thereafter each of his designs would be called a "Baldwin Red Devil". Tony Jannus flew actress Julia Bruns in a Red Devil on October 12, 1913, in a New York Times Derby.

In 1914 he returned to dirigible design and development, and built the U.S. Navy's first successful dirigible, the DN-I. He began training airplane pilots and managed the Curtiss School at Newport News, Virginia. One of his students was Billy Mitchell, who would later become an advocate of American military air power.

When the United States entered the World War I, Baldwin volunteered his services to the United States Army. He was commissioned a captain in the Aviation Section, U. S. Signal Corps and appointed Chief of Army Balloon Inspection and Production. Consequently, he personally inspected every lighter-than-air craft built for and used by the Army during the war. He was promoted to the rank of major during the war.

After the war, he joined the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, as a designer and manufacturer of their airships.


He died on May 17, 1923, in Buffalo, New York, at the age of 69. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Aero Club of America licenses

Balloon Pilot Certificate #1

Airship Pilot Certificate #9

Airplane Pilot Certificate #7


Baldwin was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964.

THOMAS SCOTT BALDWIN ..... Birth: Jun. 30, 1854 Death: May 17, 1923

Aviation Pioneer, Pioneer Balloonist, Inventor. He was only 12 years old when he witnessed the murder of his mother and father by marauding renegades during the Civil War. As an orphan, he lived with a foster family until he ran away at the age of 14. Becoming a railroad brakeman, he was discovered by a circus manager while practicing acrobatics atop railroad cars. Accepting a job with the circus, he began traveling as an apprentice acrobat, but soon he was performing on the high trapeze. Not satisfied with his act, he continued to tweak it until he was using a hot-air balloon, which would ascent during his act, as he performed on the trapeze bar hung below. His daring death-defying acrobatics and feats soon made him a star attraction. After acquiring his own hot-air balloon, he quit the circus and began a free-lance tour of the county fair circuit with his brother. Coining the name "Captain Tom", not only to satisfy his ego, but also for name recognition, he continued to enhance his theatrics. Making his first balloon ascent in 1875, he quickly became the star attraction at county fairs all over the country and in Canada and the Far East. He made nearly 3,000 ascents from a balloon and had several close calls, but his seemingly proverbial luck and great skill always lifted him from the most dangerous situations. After ten years, and thousands of shows, the novelty of balloon ascents began to fade and he found himself searching for a daring new exhibition specialty. The brothers rediscovered the rigid parachute, invented a century before, and redesigned it to be lighter, flexible and more compact. They tested their first parachutes with weighted sand bags from cliffs nearby. It would be the daring "Captain Tom" who would attempt the first live jump. Obviously succeeding, he was ready to take his new act on the road. In front of an audience at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on January 30, 1885, he offered the park manager a deal-he would jump from a hot-air balloon for $1.00 per foot of height, with 2,000 feet being the maximum. The crowd, unknowingly, witnessed the first public descent from a balloon with a parachute. He was now dubbed "The Father of the Modern Parachute." His parachute jumps were nothing like the parachute jumps today. Holding onto a ring fastened to his dangling parachute, he would ascend in a sitting position on a small seat beneath his balloon. When he reached the desired altitude, he would pull a rip panel in his balloon to release the hot air, causing the balloon to begin a rapid descent. With the momentum needed to fill the parachute with air, he would then jump from the seat. He, nor his brother ever patented their parachute design and construction. He would later comment, "We never thought anyone else would care to try it." At the turn of the century the luster of his act faded and he set out to create an even greater, more daring act. Intrigued by the work of Alberto Santos-Dumont, the first man to make a successful dirigible flight in 1898; he traveled to France to study motor driven balloons. After struggling over four years to find just the right engine, he finally found a lightweight engine used for motorcycles and built by Glenn Curtiss. Immediately ordering one, he waited hastily for his new engine to arrive, but becoming overly impatient, he made the trek from San Francisco to Hammondsport, New York, to expedite his request. Once arriving in Hammondsport, he was somewhat astonished by the modest factory and rather young Curtiss working alongside his employees. Finding Curtiss inundated with orders, and realizing he had not even begun the work on his engine, he asked for Curtiss to remove an engine from a motorcycle and send it immediately to San Francisco. Completed in July of 1904, his dirigible made it’s first trial flight on the 29th, and its first public flight onon August 3, 1904. The dirigible caught the public’s attention and sparked Glenn Curtiss’ interest in aviation. The California Arrow, and more importantly the Curtiss engine, ignited a new breed of man who daringly risked their lives for a show. It would not only be the public who embraced the dirigible, but soon the Army would see it’s potential and enlisted Curtiss and Baldwin to build the Army’s first dirigible. The airship would be designated as Signal Corps. Airship No. 1, or rather, SC-1, making its first successful flight, completing all Army requirements on August 5, 1908. By 1910 he was searching for a new challenge and found it in the airplane. The Wright brothers were stealing the show with their heavier-that-air plane, and he was determined to do it better. In 1911, he designed his own pusher biplane, one of the first to have a framework with interplane struts of mild steel tubing and wooded frame wings. He named his invention the 'Red Devil' and soon he abandoned his dirigibles in favor of the airplane, but not for long. In 1914, just before World War I, his interest turned to dirigibles again and he designed the Navy's first successful dirigible, the DN-I. Recognizing the need to train fliers, he managed the Curtiss School at Newport News, where one of his students was General "Billy" Mitchell. When the United States went to war, he volunteered his services and became Chief of Army Balloon Inspection and Production and personally inspected every balloon and airship used by the Army in the war. His final employment, however, was with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, continuing to design and manufacture airships. The airships today are his "children." (bio by: Ugaalltheway)


Burial: Arlington National Cemetery Arlington Arlington County Virginia, USA Plot: Section 1, Lot 1285 ES Map grid LM33

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Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Jun 04, 1998 Find A Grave Memorial# 3019

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Thomas Sackett/Scott Baldwin's Timeline

June 30, 1857
Illinois, United States
Age 33
May 17, 1923
Age 65
Buffalo, Erie, New York, United States
Arlington, Arlington, Virginia, United States