Curtiss Museum chronicles an extraordinary legacy

John P. Christensen
This historic sign documents Curtiss's first flight in the June Bug.

Hammondsport is truly fortunate to be the site of a museum often described as “a miniature Smithsonian.”

The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, dedicated to the ingenuity, industry and memory of that legendary aviator and Hammondsport’s most famous son (as well as to the history of the community itself) is a prime example of what can be done with an extensive and diverse collection, a dedicated staff, brilliant organization and display skills, and exceptional management.

Over the years Director Trafford Doherty, Curator Richard Leisenring and Education Director Jon Baldwin have transformed the Curtiss from being an interesting collection of objects into a truly impressive, modern, entertaining, and informative museum of national caliber.

Glenn Curtiss began his career in the late 19th century as a bicycle dealer, designer, builder, and racer, soon moving on to motorizing those frames and developing what would become the modern motorcycle.

While it was his own V-8 engine and motorcycle that propelled him to fame as the “Fastest Man on Earth” (going 136.6 mph in 1907!), it was his ingenious engine designs that ushered him into aviation. His V-Twin engine powered the California Arrow, the first successful American dirigible airship in 1904.

Though the Wright brothers earned fame as the first men to fly an aeroplane, it was Curtiss’s innovations and partnership with Alexander Graham Bell that marked the early progress of powered flight.

Three major flight demonstrations of control, distance, and speed in public competition made Curtiss the permanent holder of the Scientific American Trophy for Aviation and US Pilot License #1.

In 1919 it was his flying boat, America, that first crossed the Atlantic Ocean. His contributions to the development of the seaplane, flying boat, and aircraft carrier have earned him the title of “Father of Naval Aviation.”

His popularization of flying and manufacture of airplanes for the military, commerce, and the general public made him the “Founder of the American Aircraft Industry.”

The museum is located on State Route 54 just south of the southern tip of Keuka Lake. Visitors are greeted at the gate by the display of a huge World War II Curtiss C-46 transport plane suspended as if in flight.

Upon entering the lobby gallery, visitors are treated to this season’s temporary display of bathing suits through the 20th century, including some worn by Marilyn Monroe, Esther Williams, and Dorothy Lamour.

The museum space is dominated by aircraft, vehicles, and engines from every stage of Curtiss’ career and company, from working antiques and replicas of the “June Bug,” the famous “Jenny,” and the huge flying boat “America,” to a WWII P-40 “War Hawk” and a Curtiss-Wright jet engine.

Also on display are the household items of Lena Curtiss, numerous Hammondsport artifacts, dollhouses, musical instruments, antique fire-fighting equipment, locally built boats, a Civil War display, and a history of winemaking, playfully dubbed “Wine Henge.” There is, quite literally, something of interest to everyone.

Not limited to museum activities, the GHCM also has space available for functions of up to 200 guests, with a 75-seat theatre, a caterer’s kitchen and ample parking. The gift shop offers items of superior quality related to the region and aviation.

2010 and 2011 will be banner years for the museum. Next year, 2010, marks the centennial of

Curtiss’s famous prizewinning flight from Albany to New York City in the “Hudson Flyer” (a replica being built in the museum’s own shop is to be flown in honor of the occasion), and in 2011 the 100th anniversary of the birth of Naval Aviation will be celebrated with the flight of the Curtiss A-1 “Triad” over the waters of Keuka Lake.

Glenn Curtiss and Hammondsport are worthy of such celebrations and the museum dedicated to them is worthy of everyone’s time.

Glenn H. Curtiss


8419 State Route 54

Hammondsport, NY

607- 569-2160

Summer Hours: May 1 - Oct. 31

Monday - Saturday: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sundays: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Winter Hours:Nov. 1 - April 30

Monday - Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays:10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Closed: Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

This summer’s display, From Bloomers to Bikinis, features swimwear styles over the years, including these worn by Dorothy Lamour, Esther WiIliams and Marilyn Monroe.