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STORY: Chamber of Commerce brought first plane to Chambersburg

February 18, 2013

William Alexander, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Chambersburg (Pa.) and burgess of the town, conceived the idea of the first flight over Chambersburg in 1911.

The Chamber contracted Paul Peck, exhibition pilot for the Rex Smith Airplane Co., to fly over Chambersburg on Sept. 23, 1911. Peck was an aviation pioneer — the first pilot from West Virginia and the first to fly over the U.S. Capitol. He also was among the first to transport mail by plane.

The biplane was manufactured at College Park, Md., and shipped on several flatcars by train and assembled in Chambersburg the day of the flight, according to historians.

Residents from Waynesboro, Pa., and Greencastle, Pa., were invited to attend, and some factories closed early so people could come to Chambersburg to view the exhibition. The Cumberland Valley Railroad and trolley companies scheduled extra trains so that people could get to Norland, near Wilson College, to view the event.

The plane flew over Chambersburg twice.

“The Chamber wanted to share this glimpse into our future with the Franklin County community, and it took the lead to make it happen. It was the beginning of the Chamber’s century of vision and its first big promotion,” said Will Pananes. The Chamber had formed just a month earlier.

“Are we not almost led to believe that there is nothing impossible?” said Squire II E. Wertz of Quincy, Pa., who witnessed the flight in 1911.

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