Remembering The Past: Solomon Andrews’ Airship

By Diane Norek Harrison

PERTH AMBOY-Who Knoweth The Way Of An Eagle?

Fascinated by a graceful eagle that soared lazily over Perth Amboy in 1823, 17-year old Solomon Andrews realized “with a shock” that he KNEW how to fly! It took him forty years to prove it, but in 1863 this New Jerseyan made history’s first “controlled flight.”


The boy grew up to be Perth Amboy’s most esteemed physician, three time mayor of his city, father of seven, and such a scientific genius that Joseph Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, called him “one of the most ingenious inventors in this country.”

Between the deliveries of hundreds of babies, Dr. Andrews patented a sewing machine, gas lamps, the first successful coal range and the best combination locks in all the nation, a standard then in most banks and on all U.S. mail sacks, The doctor had wealth within his grasp, if only he could keep his head of the clouds.

That seemed easy enough. Veteran balloonists persistently scoffed at his simple system of shifting weight to control rising or falling and his sail-like rudder that steered to left or right. When he tried in 1862 to convince federal officials-from President Lincoln down-that his controlled balloons could help win the Civil War by flying over enemy lines and back, his letters were not even answered.

Dr. Andrews accordingly built his own strange airship, comprised of three cigar-like balloons fastened together with a 16-foot basket flung below. He felt the craft “Aereon” )meaning “The Age of Flight’) himself, despite the fact that he was a 57 year old and had never been aloft in a balloon. Successful tests paved the way for a dynamic two-hour flight by Dr. Andrews from New York to Oyster Bay, Long Island, on June 5, 1866.

The New York Times reported that thousands of spectators went wild that day as the “Large Fish” headed over Broadway. Dr. Andrews COULD fly, even against the wind! Promoters visualized ait travel between New York, Philadelphia and points beyond all of this came to pass-though the credit and profit went to others.

But Dr. Andrews never felt cheated, for he had soared with the birds. Shortly before he died in 1872, the doctor wrote that he had answered to his satisfaction a question that had nagged him for over 40 years.
“Who knoweth the way of an eagle in the air?”

If you have something to share from the past on Perth Amboy or from the towns listed below and would like to share for another column, please send.
If you have your own memories or past information for Carteret, Edison, Metuchen, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy or Woodbridge you can email me at or send copies of your material to me c/o CMD Media, 1139 East Jersey St., Suite 503, Elizabeth NJ, 07201.

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