Victoria Griffith is the author of The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont and has worked as an international journalist, writing about everything from Julia Child to the Amazon rain forest.
How would Alberto, the real life hero of The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont, have celebrated his July 20th birthday?
As a boy growing up on a Brazilian coffee plantation, he might have spent the morning flying a kite. Alberto loved to watch the way the wind caught it and sent it dancing into the skies. When he invented the first airplane in 1906 (OK, I know there are still some of you out there who think it was the Wright Brothers), Alberto’s creation looked a lot like a kite.
His wealthy parents would probably have given him a gift. Alberto would have been thrilled to get a book by his favorite author Jules Verne. The futuristic worlds of Verne’s novels inspired Alberto to imagine some of the changes that lay ahead for the world. Did he dream that he would help make some of those futuristic dreams, such as flight, a reality?
As one of the most famous men in Paris in the late 1800s, he might also have thrown a party for himself. Alberto loved flying over the city in his dirigible, a steerable balloon that he used to fly around town. He wished everyone could know what it felt like to be that high up. People were delighted to attend Alberto’s elevated dinner parties, where they would sit up on elevated chairs and tables to get a bit of the sensation of being on top of the world. His guest list would probably include Louis Cartier. Cartier invented the wristwatch for Alberto when his friend complained that it was hard to steer the dirigible and pull out his pocket watch at the same time.
Dumont (left) and Cartier (right)
Or maybe Alberto would have dropped in for a visit with another friend, Gustave Eiffel, who created and lived in the famous Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower became important to Alberto Santos-Dumont’s own career when he flew his dirigible up and around the structure in under thirty minutes in 1901. The feat won him 100,000 francs in prize money, which he gave to his workers and Paris’ poor.
The best present for Alberto, though, would have been the knowledge that more than one hundred years later, we still recognize his birthday. It would have made him very happy!
The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith, Illustrated by Eva Montanari (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011) is available now where books are sold.