Monday, April 24, 2017

World's largest aircraft manufacturer operated locally


Alexander Film and Aircraft impacted Pikes Peak area



At one time, from 1928 and on into 1929, the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world operated right here locally.
Even today, as you wander through Denver International Airport (DIA) you can still see a reminder of the once successful Colorado plane company hanging at the west end of Concourse B. An Alexander Aircraft Company 1930 Model A-14 Eaglerock that the Antique Airplane Association of Colorado took 25 years to restore, resides there in the upper reaches of the airport to greet air travelers from all over the world.
“The Eaglerock biplane, made famous by barnstormers during the 1920s, was manufactured in what is now downtown Englewood, Colorado, and later in Colorado Springs, by the Alexander Aircraft Company. Barnstormers landed the Eaglerock in farm fields across rural America in the 1920s and '30s, giving rides in these ‘new flying machines’ to the brave souls willing to take the risk of flight. Ten-minute rides sold for 50 cents to a dollar,” wrote Ronald E. Newberg, exhibits manager at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in SWAviator in 2000.
An older Model 24 Alexander Eaglerock aircraft also can be found at the Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum, (also rebuilt by the Antique Airplane Association).
The Alexander brothers, J. Don Alexander and S. Don Alexander first business venture was in selling street advertising, and after a brief detour in the chicken business, they established the Alexander Film Company which focused on big screen advertising. As the business grew, they relocated to Englewood, Colo., from their home state of Washington in order to be more centrally located.
“It was J. Don Alexander who came up with the idea of equipping his growing sales force with airplanes. This would serve two purposes: first, it would attract attention, and second, it would expedite distribution of the advertising films. The first plane, purchased by older brother, S. Don Alexander, was a 1920 Laird "Swallow," powered by an OX5. When the Swallow arrived in Denver it landed at Lowry Field, located at 38th and Daliah Streets in Denver. The next additions to the Alexander aircraft fleet were Longren biplanes,” according to Newberg.
“J. Don Alexander wanted to purchase some forty to fifty planes for his salesmen. However, no one, not even the government, was buying that many aircraft in the 1920s, so the existing aircraft manufacturers would not take Mr. Alexander’s proposal seriously. This prompted him start his own aircraft manufacturing company,” Newberg said.
The company built more than 900 planes in 1920s and 1930s and by 1928, it needed to expand again.
“Forced out of the Denver area by a landowner’s refusal to sell the land needed for expansion, Alexander Aircraft relocated to Colorado Springs,” Newberg said.
Steve Antonuccio, in his presentation last week at the Palmer Lake Town Hall, noted that is was for a darker reason that added to the Alexander decision to leave Denver.
Though the decision to move to Colorado Springs had been announced in 1927, a fire that killed 11 workers in their Engelwood plant in April of 1928, shortly after a site visit by flying great Charles Lindbergh, did great damage to the company.
Alexander brothers faced manslaughter charges in relation to the 1928 fire in Englewood. Charges were dropped and Alexander Industries were fined $1,000.
Antonuccio is a Pikes Peak area writer, producer, and videographer. He was a 1991 Heartland Region Emmy nominee for "Everybody Welcome: The Story of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club" and 2000 nominee for "The Treasure of the Cripple Creek Mining District."
Antonuccio also observed that local historian and publisher Leland Feitz who passed away February 10, 2013, worked for 18 years for the Alexander Film Company, a Colorado Springs firm prominent in the field of movie advertising. Feitz as a young man held top jobs in the agencies of New York City and Chicago. Feitz’s real interest was history and in 1967 at the advice of a friend began to write and publish concise history booklets about Colorado people and places. His Little London Press was established in 1973 and published over forty Colorado history booklets by various authors.
Twenty of the titles were written by Feitz himself, several about the Cripple Creek Mining District. In the early 1950s, he fell in love with the area around Cripple Creek and meeting many of the older residents began to write about the history of the mining towns. “Cripple Creek” “Cripple Creek Railroads” and “Myers Avenue” were early favorites of tourists to the area, which was in decline at the time. Other Colorado titles included books on Victor, Creede, Platoro and the Conejos County.
Over time Feitz owned several homes in Cripple Creek, the first one purchased for $500 dollars. He was a member of the board of trustees for the Cripple Creek District Museum, and in the 1980s he proudly served as its director for eight years.
“The Alexander Aircraft Company went on to build the unsuccessful "Alexander Transport," a high wing, seven-passenger monoplane. However, other more successful models followed. In the 1928 - 1929 time frame the Alexander Aircraft Company was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, with the capacity of manufacturing eight airplanes a day,” according to Newberg.
In 1927, J. Don Alexander wrote “Some fifteen months ago we of Alexander Industries began construction of a new light commercial airplane. The new ship’s performance was exceptional and price quoted in Denver was less than manufacturer’s costs on the first fifty produced. Therefore, as Emerson once said, ‘the world should have made a beaten path to’ the manufacturer’s door. But careful and expectant watching showed no signs of such a movement. We soon saw that we would have to carefully survey the path, pave it, and put signposts up along its course before the public would even look in this very right direction.”
That same year J.Don noted that only a year earlier, the company could only produce one ship per month but now were producing one per day and were still behind. “At this writing, we are forty-one ships behind sales.”
But not all reports were positive.
"One area manufacturer of planes about that time was the Alexander Company in Colorado Springs, which produced the Eaglerock plane. These aircraft...had more than their share of crashes. It got so bad that people made crude jokes about them such as: They call the planes Eaglerocks because they fly like an eagle and fall like a rock. Their track record finally became so bad that, as I understand, the authorities in charge of flying regulations banned further manufacturing of the Eaglerock," wrote Robert Esterday in his 1993 book “A Kid’s-Eye View of Early Greeley.”
Unfortunately, because of the depression, the company was forced to liquidate in the early 1930s, though remnants of the company lived on as Air Mechanics Inc., and even designed a five-seat low-wing monoplane in 1934.
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Photo information:
1. Alexander Film and Aircraft campus on Nevada Ave. in Colorado Springs.
2. Alexander Film in 1931.
3. J. Don Alexander.
4. Alexander campus in Colorado Spings.
5. Leland Feitz.

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