Joe Ettinger reads this column each evening in his East Main street home. He was kind enough to tip me off to a queer tale of a man with vision who earned the name of "screwball." And yet this man was a genius.
As a result of Joe's tip, I went out to 512 North Lake street to talk to retired railroader Owen Betz. His memory was good. So today we have a story of a man from Bourbon who built a wing that would fly, before the Wright brothers became famous at Kittyhawk.
At the turn of the last century, one Henry Iden, 60 years of age, was a photographer in Bourbon. Owen Betz, a young telegrapher boarded at the old Colonial hotel, read the Scientific American.
Doc Edison, well known physician of his day, George Barnes, tailor, Doc Wright, Bourbon's dentist, and the telegrapher who read of things to come like airplanes, all ate at the same table in the Colonial's ancient dining room.
The men of science, the doctor and the dentist, hooted when Betz told them at supper one evening about the prophecy of the airplane. Men like Bleriot, the Wrights, Octave Chanute, Langley, were freely exchanging ideas in those days and some of their letters had been published in the old scientific magazine which interested the Bourbon telegrapher.
Their standard remark, "You are as crazy as Henry Iden," prompted Betz to ask: "Who is Henry Iden?"
The next day in the early 1900's, Betz walked three blocks north from the railroad depot to a small photo studio, where Henry Iden plied his trade, a mixture of chemistry and artistry. He also lived in the studio.
While his brother, Sam, did something substantial, like becoming postmaster, Henry Iden, dreamed of a curved surface that would lift a weight in the wind.
When Betz arrived at the old man's studio, the wing had become a reality. Henry Iden had an airfoil that would fly. He had built the wing a few years previous even to this early date, had only a picture of it flying to show Betz. but others had seen it.
Octave Chanute had traveled from Illinois to Bourbon to look at Henry Iden's successful airfoil. He found two wings, of the bi-plane style, fastened together, one above the other, hanging suspended from a clothesline. (See bio at http://www.aeromuseum.org/chanute.html
When the wind was from the right direction, Henry Iden's wings, would flutter in the breeze, rise above the clothes line and remain suspended there, exerting pull or lift upon the line.
In a good stiff breeze, the wings would remain aloft long enough for the old man to record his triumph on the slow film of that day. Octave Chanute actually studied the wing. (Years later) Betz only got to see the picture.
It was not long afterward that the Wright brothers, who had borrowed data from Chanute, flew their crude plane at Kittyhawk. Their bi-plane airfoil, was a replica of Henry Iden's wing, which flew at Bourbon, Indiana in the backyard of a photo studio, years before!
Henry Iden didn't get fame from his experiments. He closed his studio and went on the road, repairing sewing machines. He later died in Bourbon, but not before he had been remembered by Chanute. Henry Iden was taken to Chanute field in Illinois and rode in a modern version of the airfoils he had helped create.
Mat Dalton, younger of the two foundry brothers, has a private
license. Says, "Anyone who would fly is crazy." then
loads his pretty wife, Marian, and elder son, Jimmy, in an airplane
and takes off for a ride.
From the Library
A man could fly around the world, navigate his way over hot desert sands and lofty mountains; be guided by the glamourous stars across mysterious oceans--and never leave his arm-chair!
Warsaw Daily Times Wed. Oct. 29, 1947