The Goose-Powered Flying Machine

According to a letter published in 1891, all you need to fly up to 200 mph are 19 geese and a birch bark chariot.

Readers of the Nebraska State Journal on August 16, 1891, must have been intrigued by a perhaps tongue-in-cheek description of “A Novel Flying Machine.” Described by inventor Peter Gleason in a letter to a Lincoln resident, who forwarded it to the Journal for publication, the flying machine was powered by trained wild geese hitched to a “birch bark chariot.”

Written May 28, 1891, from Longland’s Harbor, on Hudson Bay in northern Canada, the letter said:

My Old Friend: I address you as above, for I am fully persuaded you are my old teacher. I have read several of your temperance articles in the Toronto and Montreal papers, copied from the New Republic [a Lincoln temperance weekly], and they sound just like you. I am Pete Gleason, the red-haired boy who sat on the front seat near the stove in the old log school house on the hill, in York state, forty-six years ago. I have reasons for remembering you that you cannot have for remembering me. At least I have concluded to write you and shall probably visit you in ’93, as I expect to visit the world’s exposition at Chicago. . . .

I have a novelty to exhibit at Chicago in the shape of a wild goose flying team with which I can travel at the rate of 200 miles an hour, a brisk, steady breeze being favorable. You may not believe me but I will drive out some morning from Chicago, eat breakfast with you, spend the day and return after tea. The distance I judge from the map, is 500 or 600 miles.

It is a little funny how I came to hit upon the scheme and will tell you.

Gleason then related his care of several wild geese that he had raised after finding them in the wild. Although the geese migrated south that winter, they returned in the spring, built nests near Gleason’s home on Hudson Bay, and raised a new brood, which Gleason also cared for.

One day I got to reasoning with myself, the horse can be tackeled and driven, the horse, the ox, the deer, the dog and other animals, and why not birds? The pigeon carries letters, and why may not geese carry men? The next day I took a mother goose and a father gander to an island ten miles away. I cut a piece of buckskin to fit the neck and the wings, and tied it together underneath, then attached a load of wood to each and let them go. They returned home, were untackeled and fed. I next hitched them up double and broke others in, until now I have a team of nineteen that will take me through the air in a birch bark chariot, at a rate of speed double that of the fastest railway train. . . . What do you think, can I not pick up a little money by giving exhibitions at state fairs and in city parks? . . . . Yours, Peter Gleason.

The Lincoln recipient of the letter, identified only as “H.,” wrote to the Journal in an appended note, “I don’t remember the boy, but everything else spoken of is bright in memory. What is the reason the fellow could not be got this fall to boom our state fair?”

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Sewing the Flag

Sewing the Flag

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.