Experience Our Heritage

Community Builders: To the sky

Community Builders: To the sky


“The Way We Worked” Kansas tour is sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program.

The travelling exhibit The Way We Worked by the Smithsonian is about showcasing how Americans have worked through the years.  The exhibit shows what changes have occurred in the workforce in America from the mid-19th century and the late 20th century.  Just like America, Goodland’s workforce and community have changed as well.  The county was founded in 1886 and prospered because of individuals who believed in the town.  Two individuals who had big dreams were William Purvis and Charles Wilson who made America’s First Patented Helicopter in Goodland.

William Purvis and Charles Wilson were two Rock Island Railroad machinists who had dreams of flying.  They decided to build a gyrocopter in their spare time and make it fly.  Both worked long hours to accomplish this dream by working days at the railroad and nights on the gyrocopter.  The finished gyrocopter was a 400 pound machine without engines.  Purvis and Wilson decided that it needed two lightweight, aluminum seven-horsepower gasoline engines to make it fly.  The engines cost $800 but they did not have the money, so they formed the Goodland Aviation Company and sold stock with the help of John Keeran.  A demonstration was held on Thanksgiving Day to entice people to buy stock.  The demonstration was a success and even though the machine did not fly it convinced enough people that it would eventually fly, that stocks were bought.  With the money from the stocks the pair was able to purchase the engines.

Unfortunately the machine was not able to fly and hold a human, so the entire

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The Purvis and Wilson Helicopter in Goodland

gyrocopter was tilted and weights were shifted.  They continued to work on their dream and ultimately came up with the solution of a 100 foot belt fastened to the helicopter which would help it to fly.  Another demonstration was held and this time the gyrocopter left the ground with Purvis on it!  As the machine rose into the air hovering it started to fall apart and the pieces flew in all directions.  The crowd ducked for cover and Purvis was thrown off.  Purvis was uninjured but excited because they proved their dream was a reality.

With the demonstration being unsuccessful no more money was given to the project and Purvis and Wilson were unable to continue.  Purvis and Wilson filed for a patent on March 18, 1910 and became the owners of America’s First Patented Helicopter.  While their helicopter was never able to fly and hold a passenger the technology they used was before their time.  In the 1930’s the principles Purvis and Wilson used were modified and improved to help create the helicopter we know today.

Look for more articles in this series of Community Builders and tell us about an individual you knew that helped build our community on our Facebook page.

Look for more articles in their series about the way Goodland folks work.  Tell us your own work story and mark December 15th on your calendar to see how Americans have worked over the decades at “The Way We Worked” Smithsonian exhibit.  “The Way We Worked” Kansas tour is sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program.  Support for “The Way We Worked” Kansas tour has been provided by the Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation, the Western Kansas Community Foundation, and Jostens.  Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.  To find out more information visit the High Plains Museum and find us online (highplainsmuseum.org).

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