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BARNSTORMING. Originally, the term "barnstorming" applied to traveling theater companies bringingplays to the nineteenth-century American frontier because company members frequently performed and slept in barns. Subsequently, the term was more commonly used to describe itinerant flyers (also called gypsies) in the half decade immediately following World War I who buzzed the countryside performing stunts or taking people on their first airplane ride.

When World War I ended, the men trained to be military pilots quickly bought surpluses of military aircraft. The barnstormers took to the air, seeking to find fame and fortune and to introduce the airplane and its potential to America. The pilots cut dashing figures and their daring stunts captured the American imagination. As more people became familiar with airplanes, the barnstormers had to become more innovative (or reckless) to keep the public's attention. Critics felt the spectacular crashes and resulting fatalities did more harm than good to the image of flying. Notable barnstormers included Walter H. Beech, African American Bessie Coleman, and Charles A. Lindbergh. "Barnstorming" is also used to describe the numerous road games outside the regular league schedule played by baseball's Negro league teams during the Jim Crow era. These games occasionally included some white teams during the off-season.


Brady, Tim, ed. The American Aviation Experience: A History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

Gorn, Elliott J., and Warren Goldstein. A Brief History of American Sports. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Joel D.Kitchens

See alsoSports ; Theater .

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