The Liberty Gazette
December 13, 2016Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Germans are known for great classical music, beer, and time pieces. While still in Germany Jacob Brodbeck built a self-winding clock, and years later while living in Texas, in 1869, he designed an ice-making machine. But the details and the truth of what happened in the years in between are as foggy as Highway 90 through Crosby in the morning this time of year.
They say he traveled the country in search of new investors for his biggest invention after the original three backed out. He may have gone by wagon, or on horseback, though most likely by train, but I bet he wished he was flying instead. Some say while in Michigan, not too far from where Mrs. Wright would soon give birth to Wilbur and then Orville, his papers with design details were stolen. Maybe the sabotage was it, the last straw, the end for Jacob’s air ship idea.
Mike: Upheaval in our country led to hostility and bloodshed. Citizens sought to make America great again and there were many ideas on how that would happen. Discoveries in agriculture, changing thoughts on immigration, and innovation in transportation were frequent topics of conversation. The Civil War had torn families and our land apart, and now that it was over healing was needed so that We, the People, could get on with building a great nation.
Linda: Jacob Brodbeck worked as a school teacher to feed his dozen children and beautiful wife, but the inventor in him would never settle for what we may perceive as a domesticated life.
From about 1845 to 1865 he developed his concept of an air ship, studying the flight of birds, the wind and the air, with great German diligence, precision, and care, because some day, he said, he could envision man using “the atmospheric region as the medium of his travels.” When he walked to the school house, when he helped his children with their studies, and when he served as county commissioner, he thought about his air ship. Finally in 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. The bloodshed was over. It was time to fly.
Mike: The engine relied on coil springs to power the propeller, like a clock – a self-winding clock mechanism used on an air ship. Despite sufficient documentary proof of flight, there are claims that it flew once, just outside Luckenbach, or maybe San Antonio, 12 feet up in the air, for about 100 feet. Unable to recoil the springs in time, his creation was destroyed by the hard landing. The three investors walked away from the failed flight, leaving Jacob without further support.
What happened in the four years between that first flight and the re-direction of his inventive mind to an ice-making machine? I imagine there was sadness, frustration, and anger when he found no one else to support his idea. But I can also believe in his resolve to keep inventing.
With all those children, Jacob has several descendants, and it would be a great historical find if one of them happened upon some old family documents that have been tucked away all these years, and could prove that first manned flight occurred in Texas, nearly 40 years before Wilbur and Orville flew at Kitty Hawk.