Santos-Dumont, Alberto (1873–1932)

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Santos-Dumont, Alberto (1873–1932)

Alberto Santos-Dumont (b. 20 July 1873; d. 23 July 1932), pioneer aviator, inventor, and engineer. Known internationally as the "father of aviation," Santos-Dumont was born on his family's coffee plantation in Palmira (now Santos Dumont), Minas Gerais, Brazil. His engineer father encouraged the young man's passion for mechanics and interest in flying machines, and supported his move in 1891 to Paris, where Santos-Dumont joined an international coterie of aviators experimenting with all manner of aircraft.

During the next three decades Santos-Dumont won international renown for his achievements. He was the first person to turn the internal combustion engine to practical use for aviation (1897). In 1901, flying a dirigible of his own design, he won the coveted Deutsch Prize for being the first to navigate a set-time course, from Saint-Cloud, around the Eiffel Tower, and back. He subsequently turned his attention to the development of heavier-than-air machines and in 1906 piloted his 14-Bis to claim the Archdeacon Award. The European press proclaimed him the first man to conquer the air, a title immediately disputed by the Wright Brothers, who were conducting their experiments in secrecy in North Carolina. Santos-Dumont, who believed that his designs belonged to the world, began work on a new model. In 1908 he constructed a waterplane, the Santos Dumont 18, that is regarded as the precursor of the hydroplane. His Demoiselle, completed in 1909, became the world's first successful monoplane, the prototype of the modern airplane.

Santos-Dumont's interests and inventions were broad. He designed the model from which the French jeweler Cartier constructed the first wristwatch, and he wrote three books: A Conquista do ar (1901), Os meus balões (1903), and O que eu vi o que nós veremos (1918). At the outbreak of World War I, he denounced the employment of aircraft for the purposes of war. The Allied governments accused him of espionage, and the French government stripped him of the Legion of Honor it had awarded him in 1909. In poor health, he returned to São Paulo in 1928. During the 1932 Constitutional Revolt, the federal government of Brazil sent planes to bomb the city of São Paulo. Horrified that bombs were being dropped by Brazilians on their fellow countrymen, Santos-Dumont committed suicide.

See alsoAviation .


Alexandre Brigole, Santos-Dumont: The Air Pioneer (1943); Santos-Dumont: Cinquecentenario de primero vôo do mais pesado que o ar (1956).

Peter Wykeham, Santos-Dumont: A Study in Obsession (1962).

Francesca Miller, "Alberto Santos-Dumont," in Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders, edited by Harold Josephson (1984).

Additional Bibliography

Barros, Henrique Lins de. Santos-Dumont e a invenção do vôo. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2003.

Domenico, Guca, and Lauret Godoy. O jovem Santos-Dumont. São Paulo: Editora Nova Alexandria, 2005.

Hoffman, Paul. Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight. New York: Theia, 2003.

                                    Francesca Miller

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Santos-Dumont, Alberto (1873–1932)

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