The Man Who Put Wisconsin Aviation on the Map

Schwister at the controls of the Minnesota-Badger WPT

Schwister at the controls of the Minnesota-Badger
WPT

This week in 1911, John Schwister of Wausau flew Wisconsin’s first homebuilt airplane christened the “Minnesota-Badger.” The name came from the two sites of construction: St. Paul, Minnesota, and Rothschild. Schwister made his inaugural flight on June 23, 1911, traveling several hundred feet at an altitude of 20 feet. It was the state’s first plane capable of sustained, controlled flight, meaning it could take off, land, and turn as directed in the air.

Schwister constructed his plane out of wooden ribs covered with light cotton. He initially designed it as a glider that he towed like a kite behind his car. He then added an early-model airplane engine that he ordered through the mail and taught himself how to fly his craft. The Minnesota-Badger made several more flights, including an exhibition at the Langlade County Fair in Antigo, pictured above. Another journey saw Schwister travel 27 miles at a sky-scraping altitude of 2,000 feet.

Although Schwister was seriously injured in a plane crash in 1912, he kept flying and kept constructing new planes — and his efforts inspired other Wisconsinites to take to the air in their homebuilt crafts.

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