Just for the fun, the wife and I went a bit further with this. The only P.P. Tornich
living in the Bay area at the time, was a Peter P. Tornich, a shoemaker (owner of his
own shop), who was born in Austria in June of 1868 (1900 census). He was married to
Flora, and they had a few children. They were married in 1896, and he immigrated in
1891. In the 1910 census it says that he was from Servia.

I also found this listing:

NAME               OCCUPATION                FIELD                    PLACE                COUNTRY  ORIGIN
Tornich,         Photographer       Photographer            CA                        Hvar

and this as well:

TORNICH, PETER P. Croatian Activities

Born in Starigrad, Island Hvar, Dalmatia, Croatia in 1869. He came to America in 1891
and lived in San Francisco, California. For 37 years he was a member of Slavonic
Mutual Benevolent Society and a long-time treasurer of this Society. He has been a
treasurer of Croatian Benevolent Society Zvonimir-Dalmatia for twenty-one years and a
treasurer of Croatian Sokol of Pacific. During the War he has been active in the
Croatian Relief Committee. He is a prominent social activist.

So I take it that photography was his "hobby", not his trade.                Bob Craig

In my research for this quiz, I found references to a Mary Tornich Janislawski who
was an aviation instructor at UC Berkeley in the middle part of the 1900's. Any chance
that she's related to the photographer P.P. Tornich who took the picture of Dr. Greth,
or is it simply coincidence?                                                               
Kasey Miller

That would fit with this little description of a photo from Amador County in 1936:

Description:   10/8/2004; group related to Serbian/Slavic presence in Amador County;
photo, copy, Sebastian Dabovich, 1st Serbian Orthodox priest in America and founder
of church in Jackson; .1 photocopy, Dabovich in elder years; .
2 8x10 black and white
photo "First Serbian Benevolent Society, dedication and grand opening of
Serbian Hall, 26 Jan 1936, P. P. Tornich, photo
; .3 Typescript, copy, Dalmatian and
Montenegrin communities in the West and South, 1775-1920, by Adam S. Eterovich,
1977, for the Yugoslavian Heritage in the United States, International Conference,
University of Minnesota, Duluth and Chisolm, April, 1977; 9048.4 Photos and text
about Zenovich, Marko, Peter, Luka and others various locations; .5 photocopy, front
page San Francisco "Servian (Serbian)" newspaper, 1901; .6 photocopy, book or
periodical about Serbian churches, including photos and text in Cyrillic about St. Sava's,
Jackson; .7 "Borba Krsta Protivu Polumeseca Pesma, Ragusan Press, San Carlos,
Adam S. Eterovich publisher; copy oldest Serbian publication in America; .8 "Amador
Census of Population," by Adam S. Eterovich, Yugoslav Americans, mainly 1860-1880
censuses; 9048.9 "the Jugoslav Colony of San Francisco on my Arrival in 1871," by
John V. Tadich; .10 card, Milina Jovanovic, County of Santa Clara; 1431.6905 email
from donor, Milina Jovanovic; item 9 from Milo Radulovich of Lodi; continued on
Dennis Brann
Today, America finally manages to fly a
dirigible. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series
about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.

America lagged far behind Europe in
inventing the dirigible. Our early airship
attempts were concentrated in our still
primitive West. The dream of flight fitted
the restless migrant mind, but it foundered
If you enjoy our quizzes, don't forget to order our books!
If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
email it to us at If we use it, you will receive a free analysis of
your picture. You will also receive a free
Forensic Genealogy CD or a 10%
discount towards the purchase of the
Forensic Genealogy book.
Quiz #128 Results
1. Dr. August Greth sets off on the first flight of
a blimp west of the Mississippi.
b. 2000 ft.
Many thanks to Susan Fortune for allowing us to use this picture.
Answer to Quiz #128 - September 30, 2007
This picture was taken on October 18, 1903.
1.  What is the event depicted?
2. How high did he go?
The History of Our Quiz Photo
honour for their exploits...It's discussed this I know....

Some tell that Weisskopf (immigrant from Germany) who changed his name into
Withehead into the USA should have done the first motorised flight but no real hard
proofs for (?)

[On] the other hand in the USA it's greatly forgotten the exploit of Dr. Greth at San
Francisco which constructed an airship and made his flight on 18th October 1903
there! In fact he made the first motorised flight in the USA ! Which is proven!
Little time before the Wrights did! But he was first!
[Editor's Note: Please see comment
by Rod Filan in the right margin about Greth's only being the first such flight west of
the Mississippi.]

But seeing it's an airship and he ditched due to a motorfailure into the San Francisco
Bay...only few people seem to remember it! But San Francisco was "First in Flight"!

VBR, Jempie.
Stock Certificate for
1,000,000 Shares of Stock in
American Aerial Navigation Company
Click on
thumbnailto read
NY Times article.
October 18, 1903
Please let me know if you would like any further information on our mission,
collections, or donation procedures.

All best,

Dr. August Greth
Congratulations to Our Winners!

Fred Stuart                Bob Craig
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Kasey Miller                Jim Kiser
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Marjorie Wilser                Sandy Thompson
Debi Stewart                Gary Sterne
Dale Niesen                Theresa Roberts
Judy Pfaff
Modern Industrial Progress
Dec 1904
Charles Henry Cochrane
pp 107-108
Comments Found at

21 May 2004, 05:37 AM    #9  
Scout Pilot

Join Date: May 2002
Posts: 434  Hi friends!

Wish not to disappoint anyone, but the
right Brothers were the first to have done
a controlled and sustained motorised

But those other pioneers deserve also the
Susan Fortune's Letter to John Hill, Curator at the San
Francisco Airports Museum:

From: "Susan Fortune" <desperatelyseekingsus>
To: "Hill, John" <>
:Subject: Dr. August Greth
09/12/07 06:55 PM

Hello John:

I'll tell you what I have. Some 20 or 30 years ago, I saw an old
photo of an airship at a flea market or garage sale, and bought it for
$1. It was obviously important since several men in suits were
standing around the gondola. It was just wonderful, and I knew that
it commemorated something special.

At home, I found this inscription in flowing Victorian script on the

Greth Airship as it leaves the yard for the first free flight. Oct.18,
Fortune was a plumber & knew there
would be work rebuilding the city.) I
came across one of those old
photo-souvenir postcards. The scene is
of two men in a car (Model T?). A
portion of the handwriting beside the
photo says,
...Note the airship.....

Sure enough...the backdrop to the car is
painted to look like a dirt road with a
building called the Half-Way House, a sign that says "San Francisco--14 Miles," and in
the forefront of the painted sky is the Greth airship. The flight was such an event that a
photographer's stand was set up somewhere so folks could pose in it!

Now. I thought it was just swell to find the large photo, but when I found the postcard
with the airship on it, I got goosebumps. August needs to go home, and he needs to be
admired & respected.

I've talked to Jean-Pierre Lauwers in the past, but it's immoral to sell bits of history.
The National Balloon Museum has to do with sport ballooning, & it's too far away. The
Bancroft would file the photos. Please tell me what you would do with these items.

John Hill's Response to Susan:
you have a vintage print of the image. It must have been a large format camera,
probably glass slide, and the photograph likely a contact print.The souvenir postcard is
one of those great wrinkles in time and it certainly speaks to the importance of the
Greth flight in San Francisco; the first dirigible flight made in the United States.

We are attaching a few pages from an AHHS article on the subject. What would we do
with these items? Well, like the Bancroft, we would properly house them in our
collection making them accessible for research study and other uses. And, as fate
would have it, the Gerth story is one of several topics of importance related to aviation
firsts in San Francisco that we are currently exploring for exhibition and possible
publication purposes. (We are also researching a distinct possibility that commercial
aviation actually began on San Francisco Bay as a local operator and builder of two-
From: John Hill
To: Susan Fortune
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2007 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: Dr. August Greth

Greetings Susan-

Thank you for the wonderful descriptives. From the
clarity of the photograph you described it sounds like
Click on
thumbnail to
read article.
seater flying boats named Christofferson had a paying passenger
service before the St. Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line, which is
widely considered the world's first airline. And, the first
parachute jump in the United States was made by Thomas
Baldwin here in Golden Gate Park in 1885. Etc...)

Regardless of who was first, Greth's story is important and I
share your belief that it should be preserved and shared. I do
not, however, what to create an expectation that such a
photograph would be on any permanent display (we show
nothing on a permanent basis) but I can assure you that these
items would get all due regard and use.
Also on the back is an oval stamped inscription that reads:

Oscar Thune-Larsen
Consulting Engineer
San Francisco Cal

So this is apparently the engineer's copy of that momentous day that found its way to a
flea market!

On the front is the photographer's mark."P.P. Tornich Photo" The photo itself is in
8"X10" format and is in excellent condition. There are two slight discolorations on the
balloon. It is matted, and fortunately the corners have taken the abuse. The resolution is
so fine that you can see the twist of the rope, the pin-striping of a man's suit, &
under magnification, you can see grass on the knee of one man's pant leg! This is a
close up of those individuals whom I believe to have been important to the design &
building of the airship.

There are eight men in suits who have been deliberately posed. Behind the gondola are
the distant, blurry figures of two women & one man. Bags of ballast are scattered
about. There is one person in the gondola, and one person only--I'm sure that is August
Greth. This may be a bit too mystical, but the image of August is the most vivid of all
of them; his gaze the most arresting.

Fast forward 30 years:

It is the second piece that has roused me from my 30 year slumber with the photo of
August. My father died last year at age 91, and I've been scanning family photos into
digital format. (My grandparents came to California right after The Great Quake; Frank
An E for Effort Goes To

Sharon Martin        Anna Farris
Bob McKenna                Jinny Collins                Marjorie Wilser

Recognition to Quizmasters who worked very hard, but did not quite find the answer.
21 May 2004, 05:51 AM    #10
Scout Pilot

Join Date: May 2002
Posts: 434  Hi!

Here a picture of the motorgondola from Dr. August Greth's airship....[No photo incl'd]

The photos and article were published into the Scientific American of November 7,
1903....Dr. Greth told he ditched into the bay because if he should have reached and
landed at the other side of the bay (as free balloon than, seen the motor stopped
running) he had to pay the return transport cost to home over land and he had no funds
anymore! While the salvage operation by the rescue ship, it seems, didn't cost him

VBR, Jempie
Engines of Our Ingenuity
No. 331:

John H. Lienhard
Click here for audio of Episode 331.
Santos-Dumont's Airship No. 4
Identified by Rod Filan,
Click on thumbnail
to open pdf file of
collection of articles
on Dr. August Greth.  
(Some are not too
readable but most
have pictures)
in the roughhewn technology of a new land. In other episodes we talk about failed
efforts to fly dirigibles between California and New York. Yet, in the end, our first
successful dirigible flights actually were made in San Francisco.

Two dirigibles compete for priority. The first was Dr. August Greth's California Eagle.
Greth came to America from Europe with some knowledge of early French airships. He
formed a company to build a dirigible in San Francisco in 1897.

It took him six years to build the California Eagle -- an 80-foot hydrogen-filled sausage.
Its two propellers were driven by an early 12 HP automobile engine. The engine
weighed 500 pounds. He first sent his dirigible up over Market Street on a tether cable
at summer's end in 1903. He was ready for free flight in October -- 2 months before
the Wright Brothers flew.

He buoyed 2000 feet into a gray morning sky and flew about the city. Then the sun
burned away the overcast and began to heat the gas bag. While he struggled to maintain
altitude by venting hydrogen, his motor died. He finally ditched safely into the cold
waters of San Francisco Bay.

A year later a daredevil named Scott Baldwin entered the scene. Baldwin was an
exhibition balloonist. In 1887 he'd parachuted from a balloon over Golden Gate Park on
a deal that paid him a dollar a foot for his leap. He collected $3000.
[Editor's note:  See
comment directly to right in the margin.]

He built a lighter dirigible than Greth had. Powered by a motorcycle engine with one
propeller, it was not only smaller but less sophisticated as well. He called it the
California Arrow, and it first took to the air over Oakland, California -- 9 months after
Greth's flight and 7 months after the Wright Brothers'.

Baldwin's flight was modest. He climbed only 500 feet. But it was an unvarnished
success. He repeated it two days later and then took his airship off to win prizes at the
St. Louis Fair. He finally sold the machine to the German Imperial Army.

I'd give the crown to Greth, even if he did land in the Bay. Beyond being first, he'd
produced the more innovative and controllable airship. Baldwin had to walk back and
forth along the length of his dirigible to control its pitch. Baldwin's edge over Greth lay
in his access to a better, lighter engine. With the new internal combustion engines in
hand, all kinds of people were suddenly able to do what had so recently seemed

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way
inventive minds work.

(Theme music)
Kurtz, G.F., 'Navigating the Upper Strata' and the Quest for Dirigibility. California
History, Vol. LVIII, No. 4, Winter 1978/9, pp. 334-347.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H. Lienhard.
The proud aviator and his baby.
Many thanks to Bob Craig, Kasey Miller, and Dennis Brann, new Quizmasters
who found out about us through the current (Nov 2007) issue of GAMES
Magazine for their extra research into the photographer.
[According to] Modern Industrial Progress, Conquest of the Air, Dr. August Greth of
San Francisco built a dirigible balloon which was tested October 18, 1903 and in
which he rose to a height of some 2000 feet and made various evolutions, finally
dropping purposefully into San Francisco Bay, as being a better landing-place than he
could find elsewhere.  This machine was of the usual type and developed nothing
particularly new. ON THE CONTRARY!  Dr. Greth is the originator of the phrase, "I
MEANT to do that!"                                                                        
John Roberts

It is so amazing what each individual comes up with, or chooses to look for!
Susan Fortune

The California Eagle. It reached the height of 2000 feet. (Who measured that?  What
did they use, a piece of string?)                                                               
Jim Kiser

I believe the answer would be:  "They used a barometer".                     Chris Gotovac

From Brief History of the Barometer

As barometers measure air pressure, they were also used for measuring altitude, or
height above the ground, such as the height of a mountain, and they were often used to
measure altitude aboard a hot air balloon. They were also used by miners in caves to
determine the depth of a mine. By the late 1800's, the barometer was as popular, and an
equivalent in it's time, as the computer is today. Because competition for market share
was fierce, the finest cabinet and clock makers, and inventors, devoted their talents to
providing the best barometer to capture this market.

From Wonderful Balloon Ascents: Or, the Conquest of the Skies

To find out the height at which he has arrived, the aeronaut consults his barometer. We
know that it is the pressure of the air upon the cup of the barometer that raises the
mercury in the tube. The heavier the air is, the higher is the barometer. At the level of
the sea the column of mercury stands at 32 inches; at 3,250 feet--the air being at this
elevation lighter--the mercury stands at 28 inches; at 6,500 feet above sea level it
stands at 25 inches; at 10,000 feet it falls to 22 inches; at 20,000 feet to 15 inches.
These, however, are merely the theoretic results, and are subject to some slight
variation, according to locality, &c.                                             [Thanks, Chris!]

The San Francisco launching of Dr. August Greth's airship, "California Eagle" precisely
100 years before the birth of my granddaughter, Kate Boney!  Happy Birthday, Kate!
                                                                              Mike Swerczeski
Greth's Gondola
Comments from Our Readers
How He Solved the Quiz
I searched for October 18 1903 balloon,
and scrolled through a few pages before
finding the account of Dr. Greth's flight.
Searching on August Greth, I found photos
of something that looks quite a bit like this
Derrick Schneider
Dear Sir:

With all due respects, I would like to
make comments on the subject quiz
and results.

There is, or course, nothing that glares
in error on your webpage, owing I
suppose, to your, and your contributors'
thorough research done on Dr. Greth
and his airship. Yet I would be remiss if
I didn't point out some oft-repeated

Firstly, although unrelated to airships,
is the novelty automobile photo found
by Susan Fortune. I believe this is a
circa 1906 Model K Tourist Runabout
built in Los Angeles. Notice in
particular the access panel on the top of
the hood--I have attached an
advertisement for reference.

The Auto Vehicle Company which built
the Tourist, the best-known west coast
make of the era, was founded in 1902
by William H. Burnham of Orange
County, Carroll S. Hartman of
Pasadena, and Willis D. Longyear of
Ocean Park. As you're probably aware
these "fun-photos" were taken at
amusement parks and the like, in tents
set up by opportunistic photographers
and the themes of the settings were
contemporary interests--especially

So, to further explicate this scene, the
artist's representation of a non-rigid
airship painted on the backdrop does
not lend itself to any known dirigible of
the time, and was probably drawn at
least three or four years after Greth's
experiments--most likely created from
a mind's-eye mishmash of his or her,
and other illustrated interpretations of,
what was considered then, an
entertaining and popular trend in
inventiveness and daring. To suggest
that this fantasy airship is the
California Eagle is in my opinion
wishful thinking and misleading.

Something that was brushed upon by
others, but not made clear, is Greth's
own admission that he ditched in the
bay to save the expense of transporting
the Cal Eagle back to SF. He knew
full-well that a salvage operation would
apparently be considered a rescue and
cost him nothing, whereas setting down
on dry land would have left him in a

From John Lienhard's terrific series
"Engines of Our Ingenuity" essay on
Greth's airship, a photo is used on the
webpage [originally] described as:

"An unidentified photo of what might be
Greth's dirigible -- certainly of one that is
similar in style".

Nothing could be further from the
truth. This is without a doubt  Santos-
Dumont's airship No.4--and beyond the
fact both were motorized balloons, this
is where the similarities end. I
understand this is an exact
transcription from Lienhard's page,
however I think propagating a
falsehood should be avoided by making
this known.

Perhaps the most controversial assertion is that Greth's ascension was the
first in the US. I do not accept this and is why I clearly state in my
annotation on
that it was the first American ascension of an airship west of the
Mississippi. The first in the US was made by Leo Stevens on 9 April 1902 at
Manhattan Beach, New York. Currently my research into Stevens' early
experiments is incomplete and I will decline to speculate further on the
duration and details of this flight.

Like I said from the outset, nothing
other than trivial matters--otherwise I
very much enjoyed reading everything
you published on this page. I truly
appreciate the time you spent putting it

Early American airships (pre-WWI) are
a passion of mine and I've made it my
goal to eventually publish a work that
will, hopefully, be seen as a serious
resource for enthusiasts and
researchers alike. I don't expect it to be
a thought-provoking study--only a
compendium of powered lighter-than-
air flight in the Americas before and
during the progressive era.

Again, thank you for making this
interesting discussion on Dr. Greth and
the California Eagle available to
air-minded, hydrogen-addicted,
aeronuts like myself.

Very Best Regards
Rod Filan
Email received from
8 December 2007

Subject:  Greth or baldwin:  who was first?

Opinions vary.  i've done news research on
microfiche & it would seem Baldwin gets
the nod.  Also have found a U.S.
Lighthouse Keeper's log reference about
Greth coming to Big Sur lighthouse after
ditching near there.  It's an interesting
note and there are no other supporting
information sources.
Comments and Corrections Received
from Rod Filan
Expert on Early Aviation
December 2007