John Cooley: Visionary or scam artist?

CooleyHere’s my father’s latest article for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

The story of early aviation is full of daring geniuses, fearless fools, enterprising promoters and genuine crackpots.

All of them, in their own way, were interesting characters, and most of them are long-forgotten. Rochester was not devoid of its own characters, one of whom was John F. Cooley.

His name first appears in local newspapers in the mid 1890s, with stories of his development of a fantastic airship. Although he was educated at the Penn Yan Academy, some newspapers stated that he was from New York, others labeled him the “wizard of Hornellsville,” but it was Rochester where he settled to construct his new invention and hustle for financing.

In July 1895, while displaying a prototype of the airship, he told a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reporter that he had been working on the model for 12 years and he had solved the problem of practical aerial navigation and his ship could maintain a speed of 200 miles an hour. In early 1896, he announced that he had $800 in subscriptions from Rochester men and he would soon build his flying machine.

By September 1897, he claimed to have tested his airship design at Windsor Beach, stating that “although it still needed adjustments, it behaved beautifully, remaining several hours in the clouds anchored by a long rope.”

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