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Friday, February 6, 2009

Famous "Jenny" Curtiss JN-4 Biplane

Curtiss "Jenny" JN-4 at WW I Airshow at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio in 2016. 
Photo credit: Thomas Dwyer 

During World War I, Curtiss JN-4 airplanes were built and tested in Waukegan. Also known as "Jenny" by Americans for the JN designation in the name, the biplane was probably North America's most famous WW I plane.

The Jenny was built by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company of Hammondsport, New York, later the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. Parts for the Jenny were assembled at a Curtiss plant on Market Street in Waukegan, and some metal parts were made at Fansteel in North Chicago.

Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1919.
The Curtiss JN-4 was used to train pilots, but each one needed to be test flown first. Curtiss had its own test pilots, and the Army Signal Corps also had pilots test the planes before they were accepted by the U.S. Army. The test field was on the north side of Waukegan in today's Lyons Woods Forest Preserve on Sheridan Road.

Curtiss Flying Field on north side of Waukegan, 1926. The site is now part of Lyons Woods Forest Preserve. News Sun Collection, Dunn Museum. 

The test field's runway was a farm field, rolled by rollers to smooth the ground as much as possible. The planes would fly to other airfields in Wisconsin, Chicago, and Rantoul.

The twin-seater biplane's maneuverability made it ideal to train pilots. Its top speed was 75 mph, and its service ceiling was 6,500 feet. The JN-4B models were built in Waukegan and powered by an OX-2 piston engine; 76 were sold to the U.S. Army, and 9 to the U.S. Navy.

Civilians took flights in the "Jenny" at the Curtis Flying Field with an official tester for the Curtiss Company. Unfortunately, in October 1919, one death occurred after a flight when the passenger, Hazel Nolan of Waukegan, leaned too close to the propeller. 

Chicago Tribune, October 23, 1919.

On July 3, 1920, the Curtiss JN-4 was featured in a parade in Waukegan. During World War I, the "Jenny" was used to entice the purchase of Liberty Bonds to pay off the war debt.

Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" on parade in Waukegan in front of the Academy Theater, July 3, 1920. Dunn Museum, 93.40.1


Joe the Planner said...

Just a note: by the time the JN-4 was being produced, the the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company was headquartered in Buffalo, NY. The company was created on January 13, 1916, a merger of the former Curtiss Aeroplane Company (Hammondsport, NY) and Curtiss Motor Company (Bath, NY).

Incidentally, the vast majority of JN-4s were made in Buffalo, but a few were made elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. I had no idea the Waukegan made a few of 'em. Do you have specific numbers?

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for your note. Did some checking, but could not find statistics on how many Curtiss planes were made in Waukegan.

Diana Dretske said...

More on how many planes were made in Waukegan:

Chicago Daily Tribune article from 10 Sept 1919 stated that Curtiss had leased a 4-story "service plant" in Waukegan to be used for storing and assembling planes. "About forty machines have already arrived from the east, and many more are to come shortly."