Dumont. Birthplace of a Birdman
There is nothing in this unremarkable town to suggest that it gave us one of the 20th century’s most remarkable men.
The landscape here has changed. Instead of these endless sugar cane fields , there used to be, er, endless coffee plantations.
They made Henry Dumont the King of Coffee.
His vast wealth enabled his son Alberto Santos Dumont to indulge his passion for building and piloting flying machines
He began with balloons, then steerable airships. He was often seen floating at rooftop level over the streets of Paris and landing outside his favourite cafés for lunch
Try doing that now.
“Oi Monsieur , you can’t park that lighter than air non fixed wing dirigible here – not without a ticket”
People in Brazil – where he remains a national hero – will tell you he has a greater claim to fame than the Wright Brothers because his machine took to the sky under its own power, rather than using a sling shot.
He can also lay claim to helping to introduce the wrist watch to the world. He found it impossible to handle the controls and time his flights using his pocket watch.
So he got his mate Louis Cartier to design a watch that he could strap around his wrist during the short 30 second flights. You can still buy Dumont Cartier watched if you have a spare ten grand.
But for all his ingenuity and fame Alberto strikes me as a rather tragic figure
He let a woman fly one of his earliest planes – probably giving the world its first ever woman pilot.
He kept her picture on his desk for the rest of his life alongside a bunch of fresh flowers. But on his death she claimed she only met him once and never really knew him
Unrequited Love. A terrible thing
“Would you like to fly in my beautiful balloon ?”
“Oh yes please. But then I’ll deny ever knowing you”
Upon being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis Alberto abruptly closed down his factory and retired to the French coast where he developed an interest in astronomy. Locals who saw this strange man with a telescope and funny accent assumed he was a wartime spy and the police raided his home
Enraged, Alberto burned all his papers and aircraft designs and returned to Brazil
He hanged himself , depressed by his illness and the knowledge that aircraft were increasingly being used as weapons of war