Left first airmail flight December 28, 1911; Upper right Thornwell H. Andrews, of Charlotte, N.C. in the cockpit of a 1911 Curtis biplane. This photo was taken in June of 1932, two years before his death. Lower right; first airmail stamp.
Albany has had many “firsts” over the decades. Journal readers may be surprised by just how many “firsts” Albany can boast of.
On Saturday, February 9, 1889 Albany became the first city in the entire south to install the Edison Electric municipal incandescent light system. It was rumored that Thomas Edison himself came to Albany and supervised the installation. This writer was unable to confirm that part of the story, but it is known that Edison installed the same system later in Savannah and other Georgia cities. The new lights helped to put Albany on the map, tourists flocked in to see the lights. The Thomasville Times Newspaper in that same year reported that they too wanted the new electric light system. The paper stated that, “Albany was supplied with hundreds of electric lights at less the cost than we are paying for 60 or 70 poorly served gas lights.”
The Albany News and Advertiser reported the following story: A Town Illuminated. The electric lights burned brightly Sunday night and illuminated a beautiful city. All of our citizens are congratulating themselves on the fact that Albany has electric lights and that we have the incandescent system instead of the arc light. The incandescent lamps burn with a beautiful and steady brightness, and the flickering and flaring of the arc light is wholly avoided. The city of Albany is illuminated so beautifully and uniformly that it almost seems that a soft moonlight floods our streets.
Nellie Butner Brimberry of Albany became the first Postmistress of a major United States Post Office in 1910. This was the same year that Dougherty County built the “new” post office and Federal courthouse on Broad Avenue. Brimberry was the first postmaster/postmistress to occupy the new building. Brimberry was also instrumental in helping to start the Pecan Exposition that was held here in Albany every year. Brimberry secured the right for local pecan growers package their product and send them to other locations by mail. This was a boost to the agricultural industry here and elsewhere.
Brimberry also inaugurated the very first airmail flight in the US. On December 28, 1911, a pilot by the name of Thornwell Andrews flew his “Curtis Pusher” from League Park Station (the baseball field and the old fairgrounds) in Albany for a distance of 10 miles out over the city and dropped a locked pouch of mail on his return flight to postal officials waiting below. Andrews, a native of Charlotte North Carolina, was a skilled auto mechanic and was the first professional pilot in North Carolina. The 24 year-old Andrews had been hired as a pilot by the Lindsey Hopkins Aviation Company.
Andrews had been trained as a pilot in White Plains New York in the summer of 1911, only a few months before his flight here in Albany. Andrews was one of only about two dozen professional pilots in the United States at that time. Considered to be one of the most daring pilots of the time, Andrews had flown in many air show competitions nationwide. Andrews, nicknamed “Thorny” only had two crashes in his entire career as a pilot. The first was also here in Albany. Andrews was supposed to make a second airmail flight here but after dropping the first pouch of mail, he crashed into a fence upon landing and destroyed his plane. He escaped with nothing more than a broken arm but a year later narrowly escaped death in a crash in Gordon, Nebraska.
Nellie Brimberry struck the very first email stamp to commemorate the flight. This email flight preceded the first transcontinental airmail flight by a period of nine years.
Albany can also boast of being the only city to have two Olympic Gold Medal winners, a Baseball Major League MVP and a Super Bowl MVP.
Alice Coachman was born in Albany in 1923, the fifth of ten children. As a child she was unable to use training facilities because of the strong segregation laws. Coachman would run barefoot on dirt roads and in fields where she also practiced sprinting and jumping.
By the age of 16 Coachman was awarded a scholarship to Tuskegee Preparatory School. She entered the Women’s National Championships and managed to break both the collegiate and National high jump records along the way. By 1946 Coachman had left Tuskegee and returned to Albany were she attended Albany State College. By this time she had already held 25 titles nationwide. In 1948 Coachman qualified for the US Olympic team. The Olympics were held in London that year. Despite a being plagued with a back problem Coachman won the Olympic Gold Medal with her high jump of five feet, six and one eighth inches. Coachman became the first African-American Gold Medal winner. This record jump held until 1956.
Ray Knight was born in Albany in 1952. Knight was playing for the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series against the Boston Red Sox when he hit the tiebreaking home run in game seven. Knight was then given the World Series MVP award and the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Babe Ruth Award for the best performance in the World Series. Knight married LPGA Golfer Nancy Lopez.
Deion Branch Jr. was born in Albany in 1979. Branch played for The New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Branch was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXIX on February 6, 2005, after tying former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Dan Ross for the Super Bowl reception record with 11 catches for 133 yards. Branch was the first receiver to win the award since 1989 when Jerry Rice had his 11 catch game.
Angelo Taylor was born in Albany in 1978. Taylor participated in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, winning the Gold medal in the 400 m hurdles. He also attended the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 where he won the Gold medal in both the 400 m hurdles and the 4×400 m relay.
This writer would be remiss if it was left unmentioned that the current owner and publisher of The Albany Journal since November 2011, Tom Knighton, became the only blogger to ever buy a newspaper.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.