Cromwell Dixon
A Boy and His Plane

by Martin J. Kidston

foreword by Jeff Berry,
great-nephew of Cromwell Dixon

  • Hailed as a mechanical genius in 1907 at the age of 13, teenage inventor Cromwell Dixon built and flew airships in Ohio before signing on with the famous Glenn Curtiss in New York and flying the world's first airplanes.

    At age 19, Dixon became the first pilot in history to fly over the Continental Divide. He made the landmark flight from Helena, Montana, in 1911 before a sudden crash took his life two days later in Spokane, Washington.

    In a richly detailed foreword, Jeff Berry, great-nephew of Cromwell Dixon, reveals family stories about Dixon, including how he built his own roller coaster, two motor-driven bicycles, and, at the age of 15, a pedal-powered airship known as the Skycycle. Berry also shares never-before-seen Dixon family photographs.

    Like the tale of Icarus, Dixon's story is one of great daring, accomplishment, and tragedy.

168 pages, 6 x 9, 40 b/w photos, index, appendix, 56 softcovers per case, perfect-bound

ISBN 10: 1-56037-473-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-56037-473-2

September 2007

  • featured on the History Detectives on PBS, 2010
  • author signings and promotional events scheduled for 2008 to 2011 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of Cromwell's achievements and his historic flight
  • foreword by Cromwell Dixon's great-nephew
  • features 40 historical images, as well as never-before-seen Dixon family photographs

  • View PBS's lesson plan for teaching kids 6-12 about this remarkable figure in American history: click here to visit PBS's lesson plan.
From Poplar to Papua: Montana's 163rd Infantry in World War II





Cromwell Dixon
A Boy and His Plane
Features foreword
by Dixon's great-nephew
and never-before-seen family photos.

For REVIEWS of this book, select links below:

Click here to read the entire story on the Smithsonian's

October 2008
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Newspaper reporter Martin J. Kidston is a rising young Montana writer. I have had some delightful conversations with him, and I was eager to read his new book, Cromwell Dixon, a Boy and His Plane, 1892-1911. I was not disappointed. Kidston served in the U.S. Martin Corps, so I'm not quite sure how he'd feel about my calling this a sweet story, but that's the way it struck me.

Cromwell Dixon was obviously a genius when it came to designing flying machines-at thirteen, he built a dirigible in the backyard of his Columbus, Ohio, home, a project that required so much space that his mother had all the trees in the yard removed. This is just one of the sacrifices she made for her talented son; she sold her jewelry to buy the Japanese silk he needed for the airbag, and she and Cromwell-s sister sewed the airbag to his specifications. While still in his teens, Dixon entertained fairgoers and other audiences by flying over and around them-and sometimes out of sight-first in his "Skycycle" and then, after he received his pilot's license from Glenn Curtiss, in his Curtiss biplane, the Little Hummingbird, which he would put into a death spiral to give the earthbound watchers a thrill.

In September of 1911, Dixon performed at the Montana State Fair in Helena. He was the hit of the fair, and while he was there, he accepted a challenge posed by Louis Hill of the Great Northern Railway, land dealer Louis Penwell, and John Ringling of the circus family, who were offering ten thousand dollars to the first person to fly over the Continental Divide. Young Dixon saw this as a way to repay his mother and sister for all their encouragement and support, and on September 20, 1911, he succeeded in crossing the Divide and claiming the prize money. He was nineteen years old. However, Dixon died in a crash only few weeks later. This is both an inspiring and heartbreaking story, and a part of Montana aviation history that needed to be told.

-Sue Hart, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, 2008

Martin J. Kidston align= Martin Kidston graduated from the University of Montana-Missoula in 1997 after serving in the Marines. He works as a reporter for Lee Newspapers and is also a freelance writer. Kidston is the author of From Poplar to Papua: Montana's 163rd Infantry Regiment in WWII, and coauthor, with Barbara Fifer, of Wanted! Wanted Posters of the Old West.

Praise for Cromwell Dixon: A Boy and His Plane

"The amazing young flyer Cromwell Dixon comes wonderfully to life in Martin Kidston's impassioned and meticulous account of Dixon's brief career. A terrific read."
-Deirdre McNamer, author of Red Rover and Rima in the Weeds and professor of creative writing, University of Montana-Missoula

"Cromwell Dixon was a boy aviator in name only; he was mature beyond his years. He saw America, and Montana, from a rare vantage point high in his aeroplane. Cromwell participated in the shaping of aviation's beginnings, when all flying was stunt flying; he tested himself and his plane to tragic limits. Kidston explores with sensitivity and creativity the fast-paced life of a forgotten hero."
-Richard Sims, director of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana

"The aviator-s brief existence is explained to the reader with sensitivity, ingenuity, and compassion."
-Brian D'Ambrosio, New West

"Cromwell Dixon's tragically short life story is a tale of pure courage and skill that biographer Kidston handles with fondness, empathy, and a historian's reverence for detail."
-Tom Harpole, Smithsonian Air and Space magazine

"The book is an educational, but not stuffy, look at turn-of-the-20th-century life in America with details about clothing, transportation (remember, the auto was in its infancy, too) and the amazing, rapid-fire changes that affected society and government, along with individuals. It reads like a novel while packed with facts."
Billings Gazette

Cromwell Dixon Timeline:

  • July 9, 1892: Cromwell Dixon is born in Columbus, Ohio.
  • As a boy, Cromwell Dixon builds his own roller coaster and charges the neighborhood children a penny a ride.
  • 1903: Dixon invents a motor-driven bicycle, just two years after the first commercial production of motorcycles by the Indian Motorcycle Company in 1901.
  • December 17, 1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright achieve the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk.
  • May 1907: Cromwell Dixon flies the Skycycle, a small dirigible that he built, powered by a bicycle and propeller at the Columbus Driving Park.
  • October 22, 1907: Dixon flies the Skycycle from the Aero Grounds in St. Louis, Missouri, and is blown across the Mississippi River.
  • 1911: Dixon is in the 1911 class of the Curtiss Aeroplane Company's aviation school.
  • July 9, 1911: Cromwell Dixon is issued a pilot's license from the Aero Club of America, License Number 43.
  • August 1911: Cromwell Dixon flies for the Grand Island Merchants' Association in Grand Island, Nebraska.
  • September 1911: Cromwell Dixon appears in Helena, Montana, to perform aerial feats in his Curtiss pusher, Little Hummingbird, for the Montana State Fair.
  • September 30, 1911: Cromwell Dixon is the first pilot to cross the Continental Divide.
  • October 2, 1911: Cromwell Dixon is killed when his aeroplane crashes during an exhibition flight at the Washington Interstate Fair in Spokane.

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