Silas Christofferson shows off aeroplane, bombs Seattle, on July 18, 1914.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 8/02/2001
  • Essay 3478
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On July 18, 1914, aviator Silas Christofferson (1890-1916) performs a variety of stunts during the summer Potlatch celebration. War had just broken out in Europe following the June 28 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Christofferson takes a reporter from The Seattle Times up in his craft and they proceed to bomb the city with flour bags, as an awesome display of the superiority of air power.

Hi in the Sky

Christofferson arrived in Seattle on July 17, and his first order of business was to take Seattle mayor Hi Gill (1866-1919) on his first plane ride. Christofferson, who hailed from Oregon, had recently visited San Francisco and done the same for that city's mayor, John Rolfe. "I'm not crazy over this sort of thing," said Mayor Gill, "but I'm tetotally gosh-walloped if any be-durned San Francisco mayor is going to have anything on me."

The flight with Mayor Gill went well. Gill seemed perfectly at ease in the "aero-yacht" as it took off from Lake Union, and swung lazy circles around the downtown. After climbing 1,000 feet, the craft returned for a safe landing onto the lake.

Gill was absolutely thrilled with the experience. So much so, that he refused to return his aviator goggles, wishing to keep them as a souvenir. "Give 'em up?" the mayor asked. "Scat, young man, or I'll sic my police department on you."

Fly by Night

That evening, Christofferson put on a spectacular show for those on the ground. After sundown, he attached roman candles to the bottom of his craft, and lit them while in the air. The fire fountains burned as he circled the city.

Just as the sparks burnt out, a burst of light appeared atop the newly opened L. C. Smith Tower. A flare was seen which then split into two as it spun about in circles. This was a signal to the aviator being sent by his wife from her post on the Smith Tower.

Christofferson sped his plane directly toward the tower, engines aroar. It looked as if the aircraft would surely crash into the top of the building, but at the last second, it banked beautifully to the right, catching the glare of the signals as it disappeared into the night. Crowds on the street cheered wildly and automobile drivers blasted their horns.

Flour Power

The next day, Christofferson took John Evans, a reporter for The Seattle Times, on the ride of a lifetime. War had just broken out in Europe, and aircraft (a relatively new phenomenon) would soon redefine the way wars would be fought. To illustrate this, the two men spent an hour bombing Seattle in an awesome display of mighty air power.

They did not want to use explosives, of course, so they used flour bags instead. The nice white impact bursts would be visible from the air, indicating the accuracy of their bombing raids. They loaded up the plane with 21 three-ounce flour sacks, with which to rain terror on the city below.

Taking off from Lake Union, Evans dropped a few test bombs over the water in order to gauge how far the bags would drift due to the wind. Throughout the flight, Evans acted as bombardier, while Christofferson pointed out targets. Once Evans was comfortable estimating where the sacks would land, the junior birdmen bore down on the city.

Bombs Away

The first bomb was dropped over a vacant lot, but forward thrust carried it a half-block further where it burst open in the doorway of a home. Evans mentally added 150 feet to his calculations as the plane moved closer to downtown.

Flying over the regrade area, they spotted a carnival. They deployed another bomb and it hurtled to the ground, exploding very near to a Ferris Wheel. Christofferson grinned fiendishly as they flew on towards the Washington Hotel. They dropped another bomb, but this one hit a vacant lot in back of the hotel.

From there, they deviated off course a bit and flew out over Elliott Bay. Evans tried bombing a passing ship, but the bag hit the water. Next they flew over the old mill at the end of Harbor Island, and Evans scored a direct hit, leaving a white smear on the building's roof.

City Under Siege

The airship headed straight for downtown, as groups of people stared up and pointed at the marvelous craft above. Realizing that even a small flour sack dropped from 1,000 feet would not have a pleasant effect on a pedestrian's noggin, Evans had the presence of mind not to pelt the streets. He zeroed in on buildings instead.

First up was the Rainier-Grand Hotel, upon which Evans found great pleasure in scoring a direct hit. Later, on the ground, he tried accessing the roof to see the damage done, but sheepishly stole off when he was informed that some thoughtless hooligan had, oddly enough, just broken a skylight from the outside.

After blitzing the Lincoln Hotel, the plane headed toward the waterfront. Attempting to plop a sack onto the Grand Trunk dock, Evans overshot, just missing the Admiral Farragut which was moored to the north. Instead the bag burst aboard the fireboat Duwamish much to the consternation of Acting Chief Engineer Charles Well, who preferred to keep his craft clean.

A few more bombs were tossed out of the plane. An attempt was made to "blow up" Fischer Brothers grocery, but the package caromed off Star Carriage instead. Following that, a perfect strike was made on Diamond Ice and Storage. Their ordnance now depleted, the men headed back to base.

Keep Watching the Skies!

In all, the bombers had hit their targets 20 percent of the time, which they considered a success. "If an inexperienced man with nothing better than three-ounce packets of flour can score 20 percent of hits in guesswork throwing," asked Christofferson, "what could be achieved by an airman with a compressed air weapon properly sighted and in a plane with range finding instruments?"

"Six aeroplanes can reduce Seattle to rubble or surrender," he continued. "Five years more and ships of war will be obsolete. The dirigible balloons will be antiquated. There will be nothing left but the aeroplane, armored, equipped with guns, and manned by a crew of absolute scientists. Then must come peace, for an aeroplane war would be too awful to contemplate."


“His Honor up in Air 1,000 Feet,” The Seattle Times, July 18, 1914, pp. 1, 2; “Christofferson Does Daring Night Stunt,” The Seattle Times, July 18, 1914, p. 2; “Aviators Bombard Seattle,” The Seattle Times, July 19, 1914, p. 1, 2.

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