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Artifact Friday: Barnstormers

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Hi guys! Welcome back to another #ArtifactFriday! As you may notice when you first begin a tour of the museum, the first glass container on the right presents the history of aviation in Arkansas with the construction of the White Hanger, alongside gear worn by Barnstormers. But what are Barnstormers? Barnstorming took hold of American aviation after the end of World War 1 and was vastly popular through the 20’s due to the growth of aviation. Barnstorming is the act of flying planes for airshows, where pilots would use barns as venues. Barnstormers were men who had previously flown planes in the war that wanted to continue flying but were also regular civilians, and sometimes women. These daredevils would perform tricks like “spins, dives, loop-the-loops, and barrel rolls at dangerously low altitudes”, while aerialists would accompany these thrilling acts in their own stunts, like wing walking, jumping from plane to plane, and even mid-air tennis matches. Barnstorming was the foundation for modern airshows, although ours may not be as thrilling as they once were 100 years ago due to safety precautions.

Many barnstormers worked on their own or in very small groups. Some of the more famous single barnstormers were Bessie Coleman, also known as Queen Bess Cole, the first African American female pilot, and Charles Lindbergh, who began his career in aviation with barnstorming. There were also groups of pilots that performed together in a Flying Circus, the most acclaimed Flying Circus being the “Gates Flying Circus”, founded by Ivan Gates. The Gates Flying Circus peaked in the mid 1920’s after flying up to one million passengers for joy rides with no serious injuries. The most famous and used plane to barnstorm was the Curtis JN “Jenny” Biplanes, which were in surplus after the end of World War. To protect themselves from the cold while flying these planes, Barnstormers would wear leather vests, flying goggles, and aviator caps lined with fur. You can see real barnstorm wear at the museum on display right when you enter the lobby- come check it out!

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