Sunday, August 21, 2016

Akron Street Names: Melvin Vaniman and His Pal, Kiddo.

Melvin Vaniman and his adventurous pal, Kiddo.
Truth be told, Melvin Vaniman wasn’t even from Akron, though he has a street named after him in Goodyear Heights. Born in Virden, Illinois in 1866, he started out as a photographer — but wedding portraits were simply not his thing.

No, Melvin gained a worldwide reputation as an innovative panoramic photographer, creating promotional images in far off places like Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. Many of his beautiful images were shot from hot air balloons, using his own “swing-lens” camera design to capture full 360×180 degree panoramic images.

This is the type of panoramic photography Vaniman became noted for - taken from a balloon.
Around 1904, Melvin grew bored with photography and took up exploration, including two attempts at crossing the North Pole, the first in an airship named America. In 1910, his first trip across the Atlantic in the same airship was unsuccessful when the engines failed and his crew had to be rescued by a Royal Mail steamship. 

Through almost all of his adventures, Vaniman was accompanied by a faithful friend and traveling mascot, Kiddo — a tabby that came to be well-known as “The Airship Cat.” During his initial attempt to cross the ocean, Kiddo (who had been a stowaway in the airship's lifeboat) ecame quite disruptive inside the airship’s gondola, causing Vaniman to radio his launch boat to “come and get this goddam cat!” Fortunately, the tabby was among the crew later rescued.

Melvin Vaniman named his second airship Akron at the request of Frank Seiberling, who agreed to have Goodyear manufacture the craft's giant gas bag. Airship development was still in its infancy; Goodyear was just getting started in its lighter-than-air efforts, and it would be a few years before Goodyear’s airships and zeppelins became well known around the world.

A promotional post card for Vanima's Trans-Atlantic expedition.
Melvin made his second bold attempt at an Atlantic crossing in 1912. Just off the Jersey shore near Atlantic City, the Akron, which was of advanced design and filled with over 11,000 cubic meters of hydrogen, burst into flames and exploded — plunging the ship’s gondola over 750 meters to an inlet. Neither Vaniman nor his four crewmen survived.

Vaniman's airship "Akron" - a photo taken as it left on its final journey.
Two years later, when Goodyear Heights was laid out, Vaniman’s brave effort would be forever memorialized by one of the neighborhood’s streets. Thankfully, no street would be named to memorialize Kiddo; Melvin’s feline friend retired from flying for good after the 1910 trip.


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