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Airship

Close observation of the birds assured me that they flew on the same principles of the united working of the kite and parachute. Let us try this experiment.

-Jacob Brodbeck, 1863

The 2021 Airship red blend wine was created in homage to the inventor of its name and Meierstone winemaker’s family descendant, Jacob Brodbeck. Pushing the boundaries of modern thought in 1846, Jacob spent twenty years architecting and eventually building what is known to be the first powered flying machine in Texas. This “air-ship”, as he described it, to be flown by an “aeronaut”, was flown in Luckenbach in 1865, forty years before Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Commemorating his innovative spirit and contributions to modern flight, this medium-bodied Sangiovese blend ascends the palate with soft red fruit, and glides effortlessly to a smooth and graceful finish. Purchase here.

Jacob Brodbeck (1821-1910) was born in the duchy of Württemberg on October 13, 1821. He attended a seminary in Esslingen and taught school for six years in Württemberg before sailing for Texas with his brother George on August 25, 1846. He reached Fredericksburg in March 1847, became the second teacher at the Vereins Kirche, where he replaced Johann Leyendecker, and later taught at the Grape Creek school and other Gillespie County schools. He became a United States citizen in 1852, and in 1858 he married Maria Christine Sophie Behrens, a former student at Grape Creek; they eventually had twelve children.

Jacob served as Gillespie County surveyor and district school supervisor in 1862 and was a county commissioner from 1876 to 1878. He is best remembered, however, for his attempts at powered flight almost forty years before the famous success of Orville and Wilbur Wright. Brodbeck had always had an interest in mechanics and inventing; in Germany he had attempted to build a self-winding clock, and in 1869 he designed an ice-making machine. His most cherished project, however, was his “air-ship,” which he worked on for twenty years. In 1863 he built a small model with a rudder, wings, and a propeller powered by coiled springs. That year he also moved to San Antonio, where he became a school inspector. Encouraged by the success of his model at various local fairs, Brodbeck set about raising funds to build a full-sized version of his craft that would be capable of carrying a man. He persuaded a number of local men, including Dr. Ferdinand Herff of San Antonio, H. Guenther of New Braunfels and A. W. Engel of Cranes Mill, to buy shares in his project, promising to repay them within six months of selling the patent rights to his machine.

Transcription of Jacob’s call for equity funding in the San Antonio Express News, August 7, 1865

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We had in the San Antonio news, a call made by Mr. J. Brodbeck of that place, upon the people of the United States to aid by Stock Subscriptions, in the construction of an Air-Ship, constructed on new principles. As a Texas inventions are novelties in the world of art and science, we hasten to lay the call before our readers and the world at large:

For more than twenty years I have labored to construct a machine which should enable man to use, like a bird, the atmospheric region as the medium of his travels. First, trying empirical experiments, without a guiding idea, I soon satisfied myself that the means heretofore used were hopeless. I left this barren field and took up the way which had been not successfully followed in modern times by natural science. I studied the flight of birds, examined into the mechanical laws, governing these wonderful structures, and observed the various peculiarities of the air, and so in the year 1865, I was last able to construct a machine, which, requiring comparatively little power, imitates the flight of birds. And as much as it makes use of the same peculiarities of the air, and moves with the same celerity in every direction, with the winds and against it, not resembling, however, in form of bird, but being constructed like a ship, which has caused me to call it, “AIR-SHIP.”

A small model constructed in that year proved by successful experiments the correctness of my principles: later experiments, with some improvements in the model, resulted still more favorably.

 The blockade, and the state of the country during the war, prevented me from progressing in my invention, and from opening a new era in telecommunication by a larger ship, arranged for practical purposes, but now I hold it to my duty, after those impediments do no longer exist, to follow without hesitation the oath shown my by Providence and the spirit of progress.

The construction of a large Air-Ship requires more means than I possess, but this surely should not be an in supportable difficulty. Should I not be justified to call upon the age of my fellow man who will be all, directly, or indirectly, benefited by the result of my invention!

I have therefore concluded to collect subscriptions, in order to build, under the protection of a U.S. caveat, a large air air-ship, and then to take out a patent. These subscriptions I shall not ask as donations, but as shares, to be refunded together with a part of the proceeds of the sale of the patent right, or the sale of air-ships, as the case may be. I have put the price of one share at five dollars. Every shareholder will receive a certificate securing to him a proportionate interest in the proceeds of the enterprise.

I will give a few ideas indicating generally the character of the air-ship, and what it will be able to accomplish.

The Air-Ship consist of three main parts.

  1. The lower suspended portions, formed like a ship with very short prowl to cut the air; it serves to hold the aeronaut, as also the power producing engine with all the steering apparatus.
  2. The upper portions, or flying apparatus, which makes use of the resistance of the air, consists of a system of wings, partly movable, partly immobile, presenting the appearance of a horizontal sails, but having functions entirely different from the sails of vessels.
  3. The portion producing the forward motion consists either of two screws, which can be revolved with equal or unequal motion, so as to serve the purpose of lateral steering, or of wings of a peculiar construction. The preference to be given to one or the other depends on the nature of the motive power. Another apparatus regulates the ascending motion.

The material is so selected as to combine the greatest strength with the least weight.

When the air-ship is in motion, the aeronaut has in each hand, a creak, one to guide the ascending and descending motions, the other lateral steerage. Immediately before him is the compass, which a barometer with a scale made for the purpose, shows him the approximate height. Another apparatus, similar to the ball regulator of a steam engine, shows him the velocity, as well as the distance passed over.

It is self-evident that the speed of the airship depends upon the motive power and on the direction and force of the winds: accordingly to my experiments and calculations it will be from 30 to 100 mils per hour.

J. Brodbeck

Shares sold for airship funding

Brodbeck’s air ship managed to lift off from the ground above 12 feet and fly a distance of about 100 feet before the coil came unwound and the ship crashed into a chicken coup, injuring the inventor. It may have not been an earth-shattering feat, but it qualified as the first successful powered flight of an aircraft, predating Wilbur and Orville’s Kittyhawk flight by 40 years. In 1967, Texas Governor John Connally named him “The Father of U.S. Aviation.”

Photograph, Purported image of Jacob Brodbeck’s plane; the validity of the image has been questioned. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Specifications written by Jacob Brodbeck for his airship, 1863 Collection: DRT 9 Documents Collection:

Jacob’s innovation of a grape destemmer in the 1850s in Gillespie County has stood the test of time and has been passed down through generations of his family. His passion for winemaking led him to create this effective device out of wood, and a few of his wine bottles still remain unopened.

Mayor Jeryl Hoover officiated September 20th as Jacob Brodbeck Day in the city of Fredericksburg, which concluded with a commemorative flight at the Gillespie County Airport – 157 years after Jacob’s inaugural flight.

Left: WINGS OVER LUCKENBACH, takes the reader on a journey of Brodbeck’s life-long quest to construct and fly an air ship in 1865. 

Right: Copyrighted in 1986 by great-granddaughter of Jacob Brodbeck, Anita Tatsch. Tatsch’s work chronicles Jacob’s early life, arduous journey to Texas and his lifelong dream to develop an AirShip that could sail the skys.

Fredericksburg, Texas Marketplatz (town square), a bronze bust of Jacob commemorates his contributions to the area.

Artwork Credits: The cover of Wings over Luckenbach is a copy of the original watercolor of Jacob Brodbeck’s Airship, rendered by Elnora Neumann Kneese, great granddaughter of Jacob and Christine Brodbeck. The artwork was rendered to a black and white “blueprint” sketch for Meierstone Vineyard’s Airship label.

Texas State Historical Association: Brodbeck, Jacob (tshaonline.org)

Jacob and Christine Brodbeck Foundation JACOB BRODBECK | brodbeck-foundation (brodbeckfoundation.org)

Jacob’s story highlights the importance of innovation and passion in creating things that can stand the test of time.