November 22, 2021 |

Another World First: Kissimmee’s Air Ordinance, 1908

Another World First

The fledging City of Kissimmee in Osceola County was barely 25 years old when aviation started to spread like wildfire across the world’s imagination. Of course, only eight years had passed since the Wright’s 1903 flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina when Kissimmee City Attorney, Patrick Alexander Vans Agnew, took a trip to France. Returning home upon viewing a daredevil and his aircraft zipping and swooping overpopulated streets and buildings, Agnew wrote a piece of the proposed regulation. This regulation stated any flying vehicle operating within ten feet of streets, alleys, and at speeds greater than 8 miles per hour would be controlled by the city ordinance, up to a height of 20 miles. It was also interesting to note that it was proposed to be illegal to “Drop anything from air machines” or “Collide with telephone poles or public buildings.”  The proposal was released in the July 17th copy of the Kissimmee Valley Gazette.

Originally drafted in (and later admitted to be in) “Whimsical good fun,” the proposal abruptly cemented Florida’s place in Aviation History. According to Air and Space Mag, cities from Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts followed suit. International cities in France, Austria, Serbia, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Switzerland, and Italy worked towards their own ordinances. Vans Agnew did not stop at prohibited acts. In section 10 of the ordinance, he also stated that the City Council would purchase their own airplane “For the use of the marshal in the performance of his public duties, and to enable him to enforce the provisions of this ordinance properly.” In addition, the official licensure of aircraft was proposed. $100 ($3006.40, 2021 dollars) for fixed-wing aircraft, while airships or Dirigibles would be a mere $50. The penalties for ignoring the air ordinance were steep, with 90-day imprisonment or a $500 fine on the table for the daring aviators of Central Florida.

As the weeks following the proposal passed by, letters from Europe and domestically hailed Kissimmee as a progressive city, and the U.S. War Department even asked for a copy of the air-space law. Mayor Thomas Malcolm Murphy was lauded as farsighted as this new technology intrigued the world. It would be nearly three years before the residents of Osceola County would see a flying machine (Try) to take to the skies of Kissimmee when a local entrepreneur set on opening a flying school crashed into a cow on take-off.

After all of the publicity and attention, the cow-town of Kissimmee garnered from their ordinance, and it was ironically never passed by the citizens of Kissimmee. The historical, albeit mistimed importance of the ordinance during its time is highlighted by the Washington Post in 1910: “It is safe to predict that legislation to govern the regulation of aerial traffic will before very long engage the attention of state and city legislative bodies throughout the country…. The only thing that was laughable about Kissimmee’s agitation over the deviltries of the aerial craft was the fact that it was somewhat premature.”

Submitted by Glenn Gallagher

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