William C. "Billy" Robinson (September 24, 1884, Redfield, South Dakota – March 11, 1916, near Grinnell, Iowa) was an early American aviator. Robinson moved to Grinnell in 1896 at age 12. He was a handyman, tinkerer, and bicycle repairman who designed and built his own flying machine. In 1911, with the help of Charles Hink, Robinson constructed a 60 horsepower radial motor for his monoplane. His innovations for the radial motor were revolutionary. In 1914 he set a record for non-stop flight, carrying mail from Des Moines to Kentland, Indiana. Robinson perished while flying his biplane, attempting to set an altitude record on March 11, 1916.

The connection is this.  On the day he died, March 11, 1916, the airplane crashed with Billy in it.  He was burned beyond recognition. The seat of the airplane landed on the porch of a house north of Ewart. Public records show that Mose Jacobs lived there.  It was put in the attic until Dorothy Ladely, who moved there in 1946,  threw it away, most likely during the 1970's.  It would have been great to have presented it to the museum at the Grinnell Airport. 

The following is from an interview of Kenneth Haworth, a farmer near Ewart, in 1961:

It was just west of the school house on the Kenneth Haworth farm that an airplane crashed in 1916. Eccentric Billy Robinson lived in Grinnell. Kenneth Haworth’s brother who was attending Iowa College (now Grinnell College) and father went to visit Billy. While they were there, Billy was in a good mood and decided to show them his airplane. Everyone in surrounding communities knew he had an airplane because it was so unusual to own one. Few people actually were permitted to see the it. Billy had constructed a large wall around it.

These pictures were found in the  Russell Ladely photo collection after their passing. 










External links

Billy's entry in the Early Birds of Aviation.

Billy Robinson's final flight

Photographic history of Robinson's aviation accomplishments as part of the Iowa Heritage Digital Collection.

Birdman of the Prairie  You Tube Presentation


Prehistoric Chief Poweshiek Sheep Tribute Cottage Hill Country School Timeline Newspaper Billy Robinson Maps Photos Links

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 Last update:  Wednesday, March 13, 2019 11:36:13 AM