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Brinton, William Franklin


Brinton was the manager at the Graham Opera House in Washington, Iowa; a public speaker; an inventor and overall Renaissance man. He built his house in Washington Iowa to be heated with solar heat, and he invented and built airships, for which he built a landing strip on the roof of his house. Whether he actually flew the airships that high much less landed any on his rooftop landing area, is questionable. On September 20, 1893 he rented the fairgrounds in Washington and advertised that his air ship would go up. He also arranged other entertainment, such as horse races, foot races, and bicycle races and fancy bicycle riding. The generator to inflate the balloon which he needed to get his airship off the ground did not arrive in time and Brinton's stop gap measures did not work, and his airship did not fly that day. He came under intense criticism for this because he had charged $.10 and $.15 admission. The crowd reached 8000. He countered that the other entertainment was worth the money, and that those who said that man could never fly should be content, but people had come to see Brinton fly. The enraged portion of the crowd apparently destroyed the balloon and Brinton and his wife had to stay in a local hotel because their friends were afraid they might have come to harm if they went to their home. Brinton tried to compensate by giving free entertainment in the opera house, but the opera house owner would not rent him the space for fear that the crowd might become unruly. Brinton made over $1600 that day.

He acted as projectionist in an early movie house, and presented travelogues over his many journeys, particularly his trips to Palestine. He built an outdoor theatre, which he called The Airdome, but it was short-lived. He also offered fake air ship rides in a tent and at the Opera House. In the tent the air ships were fastened to the central tent pole; in the opera house they were attached to the scenery loft.

He came by his quaintness naturally. His father Jonathan owned a farm in Washington County but didn't like paying taxes. This apparently prompted him to move to Palestine, leaving his wife and family in Iowa. He bought land to build a hotel, but couldn't secure a title from the sellers. He apparently divided his time between Palestine and London, and there are several letters from him in the collection instructing Frank to sell the farm and send the money to him in London. He eventually stopped writing and was never heard from again. Though Frank went to Palestine to look for him he was never found.

Both father and son were inventors, and there is a letter in the collection asking the family to make arrangements for allowing a company to use one of Jonathan's inventions.

Frank also applied for several patents and carried on a large correspondence with patent lawyers. He frustrated his lawyers by constantly changing the specifications for his inventions after the patent had been applied for.

He apparently suffered from a hernia and went to the Mayo Clinic, perhaps for treatment of the hernia.

He married Indiana Putman, who was right at home in this odd family as her later behavior demonstrated. She was much younger than Frank and was still very young when Frank died at the age of 61 in 1919. His will left the estate to her, with the proviso that she never remarry. She was a health food aficionado and a nudist. There are several books in the collection having to do with exercises for beauty. One apparently learned to call before visiting her, because she had no qualms about answering the door in the nude.

She was a savvy money manager, though, and invested in land in Iowa, Kansas, and Texas; and maybe in South Dakota and Florida. She and Frank had no children, so her estate was divided among several charities when she died in 1955.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Brinton Entertaining Company Papers

Identifier: msc1000
Abstract Films, projectors, glass slides, 78 rpm records, wax cylinders, memorabilia from travels, patent applications with drawings, plans for flying machines, posters, tickets.