He spent the majority of his time living in Paris where he studied and conducted experiments in flight. He is credited with the creation of the world’s first practical Dirigible (essentially a steerable balloon), which he also piloted.
Santo-Dumont was not the only connoisseur of Aviation with money to spare. Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe, known as the “Oil King of Europe,” was also been moved by the excitement surrounding early Aviation. As a way to promote advancement, Deutsch de la Meurthe created the “Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize” in April of 1900. 100,000 francs (a Huge sum of money in 1900) would be paid to the creator of the first machine capable of flying from Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Town in Paris and back in less than thirty minutes. The total distance for the round trip was approximately 6.8 miles, which meant that a speed of at least 14 mph would have to be maintained… this was no simple task.
On October 19th, 1901 Santos-Dumont successfully made the trip in his Number 6 Airship (considered by many to be the first truly successful airship) in 29 minutes and 30 seconds. Santos-Dumont, already a wealthy man at the time, gave half the prize money to the poor people of Paris and the rest to his crew. This breakthrough in Aviation made Santos-Dumont one of the most famous people in the world (Wilbur and Orville Wright would not make their first flight until December 17th 1903).
Pilots in the early days of aviation relied heavily on watches for navigation. Time and airspeed were used to calculate distance traveled. Santos-Dumont noted that checking the time on his Pocket Watch while in flight was very difficult and at times could even be dangerous. To solve this problem Louis Cartier created a wristwatch for Santos-Dumont to wear while in flight. The Cartier “Santos,” released in 1904, was the world’s first Pilot Watch and the first wristwatch designed for Men (wristwatches at the time were worn exclusively by women).
The spirit of Santos-Dumont is still alive among modern enthusiasts of aviation and watch collecting. Flying a Plane is a Solo Sport that rewards the Entrepreneurial Sprit of Calculated Risk. The Successful and Adventure Seeking among us will always be drawn to Watches and Aviation.