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Claude Grahame-White

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Category: General Interest
Reference No: 8243
Status: Available
Price: £40.00
  Claude Grahame-White  Claude Grahame-White

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Charismatic British pioneer aviator, much disliked by the Wright Brothers for his swagger, his lifestyle (he had a great fondness for fast ladies, fast cars and speedboats) and his love of self-publicity.

Grahame-White first crossed the Wright Brothers' path in the summer of 1908 when Wilbur was in Europe to show sceptics their invention. He stood open-mouthed among the crowd at Camp d’Auvours in France and returned to England determined to fly. He ordered a machine from Louis Blériot’s factory in France and apparently flew solo without a single lesson. The newspaper coverage this received made him realise aviation’s potential for achieving instant fame and he hired a press agent in early 1910 instructing him “to circularise the whole of the British and foreign press to give my flights every publicity.”

In April Grahame-White competed with the French pilot Louis Paulhan for the £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the first flight between London and Manchester in under 24 hours. Although Paulhan won the prize, Grahame-White became an overnight star on both sides of the Atlantic and a favourite of the rich and famous, whom he often took to the air on joyrides (he gave H.G. Wells his first flight). He also became very rich, winning many prizes and enjoying huge appearance fees at the many aviation meets in America and elsewhere

On December 18, 1910, Grahame-White was badly injured chasing a prize for a non-stop flight from England to Belgium. Preparing to cross the Channel at Dover, his biplane was blown over the cliff and fell 50 feet. While he lay in his hospital bed with severe concussion, he reflected on his chances of surviving such a dangerous profession - hardly a month passed without another aviator dying, and it seemed a matter of time before his own luck ran out. He abandoned competitive flying and decided to plough his money into the Grahame-White Aviation Company, buying an airfield and some buildings at Hendon in 1911 and promoting it as the London Aerodrome.

In addition to staging air displays and races at the weekends, he began assembling aircraft of the American Burgess Company under licence and later Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, also under licence. When John D North joined him in 1913  they began manufacturing planes of their own design, many of which were used by the Grahame-White flying school and pilots at the many aviation meetings. A collaboration between Grahame-White, Bleriot and the American machine gun inventor, Hiram Maxim, led to the development of military aircraft, with the active support of the War Office. The factory grew rapidly during World War One.

During the war itself Grahame-White flew the first night patrol mission against an expected German raid on 5 September 1914.

His Hendon aerodrome was lent to the Admiralty in 1916, and then to the RAF in 1919. When this was purchased by the RAF in 1925, after a protracted legal struggle, Grahame-White largely lost his interest in aviation, eventually moving to Nice in his old age, where he died in 1959 having made a fortune in property development in the UK and US.

This is a very fine vintage black and white postcard, showing the nonchalant, bow-tied young aviator in front of one of his aircraft. There's a fine signature in ink to the reverse.
The card has been sent through the postal system, and cancellation on the half-penny stamp is dated  November 27th, 1912. In very good condition.