The World's First Airliner 1913-1914

Mankind’s first inspirations of flight came while watching birds soar into the blue and white sky. In 1913, one of Duluth’s most honored citizens, Julius Barnes, entrepreneur, business leader, and philanthropist, wanted to fly.

"It was in 1913, before World War I, I brought to Duluth from St. Louis a biplane flying boat which we christened The Lark of Duluth. There were no flying fields in the country so a water surface was necessary and we stationed it at the Boat Club on Minnesota Point." Julius Barnes, 1954

As the president of the Duluth Boat Club, Barnes wanted to introduce his beloved city to aviation. A celebration of flight was planned.

The celebration was named The Lark O’ the Lake - Six Weekend Carnivals - Come for Fun. Air Ship Flights, Band Concerts, Open Air Dancing, Motor Boat Racing, Rowing Regattas, Canoe Contests, Sailing Races, Water Baseball, Log Rolling, Comic Water Clowns. June 27-28, July 4-5, July 11-12, July 18-19, July 25-26, August 1-2. The whole city prepared for a summer season of fun. Posters, brochures, cartoons, fireworks, and trophies were all part of the celebration.

"The Lark of Duluth is painted green and is spanned by 35 feet of white wings."
Duluth News Tribune, July 4, 1913

"The Lark of Duluth is painted green and is spanned by 35 feet of white wings. Under the upper plane, where the world as it watches may read, is printed the name of the boat, so Duluth will receive enviable advertising from the flight." Duluth News Tribune, July 4, 1913

The hull of the Benoist (BEN-wah) flying boat was made of three layers of spruce with fabric between each layer. The Roberts engine and a pusher propeller gave the aircraft a top speed of 64 mph. The wings were of linen stretched over spruce spars. The engine was placed in the hull and the pusher propeller required a chain drive.

"With the ship I brought two instructors from St. Louis to teach Bill Jones and myself how to fly. You will be interested that after the first flight and publicity the bank directors advised me not to fly. I was borrowing large sums for the export grain trade." Julius Barnes, 1954

Although Barnes’ dream of flight was thwarted by concerned bankers, he inspired a whole new economy of aviation by inviting and allowing others to achieve their goals. Flights were made, weather permitting, all summer long flying to and from the Spirit Lake branch of the Boat Club, and up and through the Aerial Lift Bridge as well as the bridges along St. Louis River.

"That winter I let these two instructors take the ship and fly to develop an air ferry." Julius Barnes, 1954

Those two instructors were Tony and Roger Jannus. They brought the Lark back to St. Louis to lengthen the wings. After the modifications were completed, they brought her to St. Petersburg, Florida to develop the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The Lark arrived on December 31, 1913 by rail and on January 1, 1914, flew the inaugural flight of the first commercial air ship line.

"We are going to do something here this winter which never has been done before and which will attract attention for all the world." Tom Benoist, 1913

"When the airboat arrived yesterday morning, a crowd of 2,000 was waiting near the temporary landing, another 1,000 saw what they could from the Lafayette Street Bridge, and 500 more were across the river. When the dock was reached, an enthusiastic cheer went up, and there was a clapping and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. A moment later, there was a rush down the three narrow planks connecting the platform with the shore; men, women and children fighting to get down to the boat and its two occupants." Tampa Tribune, January 2, 1914

In addition to the scheduled flights, about 100 charter and sightseeing flights were reported in the two airboats. An estimated $12,000 in fares was taken in, but the freight cost of getting the planes to Florida, employees wages, gas and oil allowed only a small profit. The last official airline flight was made on May 5, 1914.

The Lark of Duluth returned to Duluth the following summer for another Lark O’ the Lake Carnival. Roger Jannus toured throughout the surrounding territory conducting general exhibition and passenger service.

Julius Barnes, The Lark of Duluth, the Jannus pilots and the Benoist Aircraft Company inspire a new economy of air travel. Although St. Petersburg, Florida takes credit for her flight and proudly displays her replica in their museum, Duluthians now know it truly began in the hearts of men and on the shores of Lake Superior.

On January 1, 1914,
The Lark of Duluth flew the inaugural flight
of the first commercial air ship line.