Kiddo The Airship Cat

Kiddo was a small, self-assured tabby cat who in 1910 inadvertently joined the American explorer Walter Wellman and his crew as they set off in the airship “America” in an attempt to cross the Atlantic. The crew had no idea that Kiddo was on board having stowed away.

Melvin Vaniman and Kiddo, the mascot of the airship America
Melvin Vaniman and Kiddo, the mascot of the airship America. Photo in public domain (believed).
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Walter Wellman (1858-1934) was a well-known American explorer, journalist and aeronaut. Wellman and his crew set off on 15 October 1910 from Atlantic City, New Jersey on their airship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The intention was to be the first to make the crossing by airship. They didn’t know that they had a sixth crew member aboard who had stowed away in one of the lifeboats. We are told that Kiddo was a little bit disturbed initially, fussing and meowing and yowling in protest. The first engineer, Melvin Vaniman, made the first radio message in history, apparently, back to base asking for a colleague to come and get this “goddamn cat”.

Kiddo was shoved into a canvas bag to be lowered into a motorboat beneath the aircraft to be taken back to land. However, the weather conditions were too difficult for this to take place. The crew were forced to accept him on board and he remained there for the voyage.

Walter Wellman's "America"
Airship America seen from the deck of the steamship Trent, October 1910. Picture: George Grentham Bain collection – Library of Congress (call # LOT 10962 (F) [P&P]) This image was uploaded from Shorpy.com, a photo-blog site specializing in vintage photography. My thanks to Wikipedia.

Once Kiddo had acclimatised to the conditions the crew discovered that he became a useful crewmember. The navigator, Murray Simon, said that Kiddo was “more useful than any barometer”. Apparently he advised that no one should attempt to cross the Atlantic in an airship without a cat on board! Kiddo could predict the weather. If he was sitting in his favourite spot on one of the lifeboat’s sails, warming in the sun, the crew knew that they could relax with respect to forthcoming weather conditions.

As it happens, the airship did not cross the Atlantic but they stayed in the air for 71.5 hours which broke the record for the longest continuous flight for an airship. The engines failed because of beach sand in them! The flight took them 1,370 miles (2,200 km) from their launch site but they had drifted for 33 hours after the engines had failed. The crew brought their aircraft down near Bermuda and were rescued by the steamboat Trent.

On returning to New York the crew and Kiddo were given a hero’s welcome. For a while, Kiddo was displayed in a leading department store, Gimbel’s (not a great idea if we are honest). He reclined on soft cushions in a gilded cage as admirers paid homage to this feline aeronaut. In a nice touch, Kiddo spent a quiet retirement living with Walter Wellman’s daughter.

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