This artifact is located in the
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One of Thomas Benoist's flying boats after crashing
in a lake, 1912-1914
Photograph by Russell Froelich
MHS Photographs and Prints
St. Louis aviator and aircraft builder Thomas W. Benoist at the Kinloch
Field Air Meet in October 1910
Photograph by David M. Boyd, 1910
MHS Photographs and Prints
Thomas Wesley Benoist (pronounced “ben-wah”) was an
aviation pioneer in the early twentieth century, working as a designer,
manufacturer, entrepreneur, and pilot. He made several contributions to
the field of aviation throughout his lifetime, which was cut short by
a streetcar accident in 1917.
Benoist’s aviation career began in 1907, when he and his brother
Charles established an auto supply shop at 3932 Olive Street. The shop
became the first aviation part supplier in 1908, when it became the Aeronautic
Supply Company or Aerosco. Business prospered as aviators around the world
bought their supplies from the business. In 1909, Benoist began manufacturing
airplanes in a new shop at 6664 Delmar Avenue. A year later, he produced
three of his own designs and established the Benoist Flying School at
While business boomed, Benoist suffered a couple of setbacks in 1910 and
1911. On October 12, 1910, Benoist suffered a brain concussion and lost
three of his toes on his right foot after being struck by his propeller
at an air tournament in Amarillo, Texas. Almost a year later, an explosion
destroyed the Benoist Aircraft Company at 6664 Delmar Avenue. On October
20, 1911, a fire destroyed five planes, two engines, and all of his manufacturing
equipment, which totaled approximately $20,000 worth of damage. He reopened
the business at 6628 Delmar Street and soon recouped his losses.
In 1913, Benoist began manufacturing his seaplane designs in space provided
by E. B. Meissner at the St. Louis Car Company. Around the same time,
P. E. Fansler approached Benoist with the opportunity to create an airline
service between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Benoist accepted and
established the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, Passenger and Express
Service, the United States’s first scheduled passenger airline.
The service began operation on January 1, 1914, and ceased operation on
April 27, 1914, when the tourist season ended.
Benoist moved back to St. Louis and established a seaplane flying school
on the Mississippi River. It operated at the Carondolet Motor Boat Club
for two years until the Roberts Aircraft Motor Company offered Benoist
the opportunity to move to its headquarters in Sandusky, Ohio.
While riding on a streetcar to the Sandusky factory on June 14, 1917,
a telephone pole struck Benoist as the streetcar completed a sharp turn.
He died within three hours of being struck, thus ending the life of one
of America’s foremost aviators.