Aviator Evans

William Evans in his Greene biplane at Skidmore, Missouri 1910

William M. Evans in his Greene biplane

“William Evans, 817-A East Fifteenth St., Kansas City, Mo., has bought a Greene biplane equipped with a four-cylinder Elbridge engine.  He will give exhibitions with it.”[1. Aeronautics, vol. 7, no. 3, September 1910, p. 81]

William M. Evans lived and flew in Kansas City from 1910 to around 1923.  The Iowa-born aviator told reporters that he had been a daredevil bicycle rider, balloonist, and parachute jumper as a young man before purchasing his first aeroplane and taking flight.

Evans originally ordered a Santos Dumont Demoiselle from 16-year-old Thomas F. Hamilton of Seattle and practiced his first flights with J. A. McCallum.

His aviation career began in earnest when he purchased a biplane in the summer of 1910 from William Greene of Rochester, NY and advertised himself as an aviator-for-hire.  Evans’ practice flights at the aviation field in Overland Park, Kansas made national news as the longest flight by a novice.  His exhibitions at Skidmore, Missouri and at Larned and Lawrence, Kansas thrilled thousands of spectators.  He briefly toured with the W. I. Swain Shows in the southeast and flew with Captain T. S. Baldwin’s team at Mineola.

In 1913, the trade press reported that Evans had stopped flying.  Frequent crashes, the cost of repairs, non-paying crowds, and long stretches away from his wife and new baby probably influenced his decision to stop traveling.  Evans continued to work in aviation as an employee of the Young Aeroplane Company of Kansas City and worked as both a mechanic and pilot.  He flew the Young Company’s Tractor biplane in local exhibitions and at the aviation grounds Young leased in North Kansas City through 1913.

The Young Aeroplane Company began looking for greener pastures and eventually moved to Waterloo, Iowa in December 1913.  It appears that Evans and his family stayed in Kansas City, and records show that in 1917 Evans was working as a salesman for a Denver-based manufacturing company.

Evans lived in Kansas City through the early 1920s.  Although his wife Agusta and daughter Jaunice remained in Kansas City through 1930, Evans disappears from the state census and city directories by 1924.

Although his story has faded into history, William M. Evans was a nationally-known aviator in his time and was a contemporary and colleague of J. A. McCallum, Ralph McMillen, Thomas S. Baldwin, Charles L. Young, and other pioneers.  He flew with Blanche Stuart Scott, J. C. Mars, Baldwin, and many other well-known and not-so-known amateur and professional aviators.

I chose to tell Evans’ story because my family played a role in publicizing his early career.  At least two of my ancestors were involved in bringing Evans to the 1910 Skidmore Punkin Show for his first professional gig, and my great-great-grandfather, award-winning professional photographer G. C. Ashbrook, took the photo of Evans in flight that was later used in trade publications and advertising from Aeronautics to promotional material for the Elbridge Engine Company of Rochester, NY.

William M. Evans’ early career:

Evans’ first job as a test pilot for W. D. Lindsley in Oklahoma:

Evans, McCallum, and early flights at Overland Park and Olathe, Kansas:

Evans gave his first public exhibition in 1910 in Skidmore, Missouri:

Evans flies against Thomas Baldwin at Elm Ridge Racetrack in Kansas City:

Evans and McCallum plan exhibition flights at Larned, Kansas:

Posts about early Kansas City flight and other early aviation topics: