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Ann Kathleen Otto


The Magnificient Moisants

The Magnificent Moisants is the title of Doris L. Rich's book about another pioneering aviation family which was in many ways more diverse and interesting than the Wrights. Alfred, John and Matilde Moisant were three children of French-Canadian immigrants who settled in Illinois before moving to California. The siblings had big dreams. But first they needed money.

Central America

Alfred and John went to El Salvador in 1896 and became successful in sugar cane. They also found themselves in the center of political unrest. John led failed coup attempts against President Figueroa in 1907 and 1909. Fortunately for him, at that point President Jose Santos Zelya of Nicaragua asked him to go to France to learn more about aeroplanes.

The Family Takes Flight

John took to flight with the same enthusiasm as he did to politics. After attending the first international air show in Reims, France in 1909, he knew that he wanted a career in aviation and learned to fly under Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly the English Channel. On August 17, 1910, John became the first American to fly over the Channel and the first ever to do that with a passenger, his mechanic. His often time flying companion,  Paree, shown with him at right, was not on that particular flight.

Alfred was the business manager for the Moisant International Aviators which manufactured aeroplanes, taught flying, and barnstormed across the United States, Mexico and Cuba, winning prestigious air races until John died in a crash on December 31, 1910.



Matilde became the second American woman to achieve a pilot's license after her colleague, Harriet Quimby, subject of an earlier blog. Matilde was the first woman to fly in Mexico while the Moisant troop was there performing for President Madero's inauguration events. During their stay she flew over the President's patio and successfully dropped a bouquet of flowers and a thank you note.  He is said to have proudly told the story for days after to all who would listen.

Unfortunately, President Madero's opponents were forming alliances under Emiliano Zapata. Harriet Quimby returned to the states, but the rest of the Moisant team continued their scheduled events. Soon their train was pulled off the tracks in Torreon, about three hundred miles north of Guadalajara, en route to Chihuahua and they were surrounded while rebels laid siege to the city. After lengthy negations between the rebels and Mexican soldiers, they were released. Matilde was given credit for her cool head during the difficult situation.

Doris L. Rich's book is a good read. Another source is  which has pages on John, Matilde and the Moisant Aviation School, as well as the many racing and exhibition events and awards the family encountered. You can read more about the family's adventures when Yours in a Hurry is published.

Photo Credits: John Moisant, Library of Congress;  Matilde,

Next time: The first international air race and exhibition in Reims

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