Alberto Santos-Dumont

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(PD) Photo: Zaida Ben-Yusuf / Library of Congress
Alberto Santos-Dumont

Alberto Santos-Dumont was an early aviation pioneer. He was born and died in Brazil but made his contributions to aviation while living in Paris during the early 1900's. He remains a folk hero in Brazil. Many there credit him with the invention of the airplane.

Santos-Dumont's first designs were airships. The zenith of his airship building came when he won the Deutche de la Marche prize by flying his airship #6 from Parc St Cloud outside Paris to the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes.

As a result of his airship flights, Santos-Dumont was one of the most famous people in the world in the first decade of the 1900's.

After building 11 airships, Santos-Dumont turned his attention to designing airplanes. He made the first public flight of an airplane in Paris in 1906. He was generally believed to have been the first person to have flown an airplane until Wilbur Wright made a public flight in Paris in 1908. The greatly superior design the the Wrights displayed convinced most people that they had, as they claimed, been flying airplanes since 1903. However a significant faction backed Santos-Dumont's claim to primacy for some time.

Santos-Dumont became ill with multiple sclerosis and stopped flying. He retired to the French seashore during WWI. After having his possessions searched by the local security forces who were concerned he was a spy, Santos-Dumont burned all of his papers and notes.

He returned to Brazil where he lived until committing suicide by hanging.

He never married and had no known children.