Rhinelander And The 1930 American Legion Air Race

Oct 14, 2020

Today many people take the Oneida County Airport for granted. In the past, however, generating interest in aviation and air travel was an important goal for local civic boosters. In 1930, Rhinelander participated in an air race that significantly advanced this objective. Historian Gary Entz has the story.

Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful heavier than air test flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. As with any other sort of motorized transport as soon as the technology became dependable someone decided to organize a race as a test of reliability and endurance. Outside of aviators, it is difficult for the public to be fans of air races, largely because outside of takeoffs and landings, there is not much for a ground-based fan to see. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the Northwoods has not participated in air races, and in 1930 Rhinelander had a prominent place in a state-wide competition.

In August 1930, the American Legion’s state convention was being held in Sheboygan, and in honor of veteran aviators the Legion decided to hold an air race. This was to be a race starting from Superior then flying diagonally across the state and finishing at Kohler outside of Sheboygan. As the pilots and planes made their way north to the starting point, they stopped in various towns along the way and christened each participating plane with the name of a Wisconsin city being honored. Both Merrill and Rhinelander were distinguished by having planes named after each town.

Accompanying the racers were members of an organization known as the National Skyriders. This group sent roughly ten pilots and stunt planes along and put on an air show for local townsfolk while the race plane was in town to receive its honorary name. In anticipation of the air show, the local American Legion held a contest to choose a young woman from the Rhinelander area to have the honor of performing the christening ceremony and to be the passenger-of-honor in a flight over the city. Of the seven nominees, Miss Lorraine Doherty was chosen for the observances.

This was the biggest day yet in Rhinelander’s fledgling aviation industry, and local boosters saw it as a golden opportunity to improve the city’s fortunes. On August 12, the National Skyriders did not disappoint as they put on an aerial show that included short races, balloon busting from the air, acrobatic stunts of daring, and flour bombing. In addition to the aerobatic planes, a Ford Trimotor, one of the most modern passenger planes of the day, came to Rhinelander and was made available for rides throughout the day.

After the air show, Lorraine Doherty officially christened an orange-colored Curtis Robin with the name Rhinelander. The city name was painted on the side of the plane after which Doherty was taken aloft to drop flowers over downtown from the air The following day the flying show departed for Merrill where it put on a similar exhibition. By August 17, the racers were in Superior and ready for the main event.

The race was done in stages and concluded at Kohler on August 20. Neither the Rhinelander nor Merrill plane won. The winner was the plane representing New London, Wisconsin. Regardless, it was a grand day for aviation enthusiasts across the state.