October 16, 1910

In 1910, the dirigible America, making a transatlantic voyage under the direction of American journalist and explorer Walter Wellman, communicated by radio to the Siasconset Marconi station. As it floated a few miles offshore, crew members of the America reported that all was well. But they would have to abandon the airship the following day after losing its engines and drifting almost to Burmuda.

In 1905, Wellman convinced his employer, the Chicago Record Herald, to fund an exploration to the North Pole in a dirigible, a hydrogen-filled airship. Wellman made two attempts to leave for the North Pole, and mechanical troubles grounded him both times. In 1910, he announced he would fly his airship America across the Atlantic Ocean and left Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 15.

The Siasconset wireless operators began to pick up the America’s signal around 9:00 a.m. the next day. For the next three hours, the ship and Siasconset exchanged brief messages. The airship was trapped in a dense fog and couldn’t give its bearings, although at one point the Siasconset operator guessed it was almost directly over Nantucket.

A day later, the America’s engines malfunctioned, and it was drifting perilously close to the sea. Wellman and crew abandoned it and were rescued in their lifeboat by a passing British mail ship.

Wellman built another dirigible the next year, and it exploded during a test flight, killing all five crew members on board. It was his last project using a dirigible.

Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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