Monday, October 7, 2013

Lake County Mini-Profiles - The Story of Walter Wellman

Walter Wellman was one of Lake County's most accomplished and interesting native sons.  His accomplishments in journalism, exploration, and aeronautics gained world-wide recognition.  Yet to many of us in Lake County his name is unknown and his accomplishments largely forgotten.

Walter Wellman was born in 1858 in Concord.  His family roots were quite distinguished, having dated back to New England as early as 1640.  Their pedigree included inventors, lawyers, clergymen, scholars, and early pioneers of the Western Reserve.  Wellman's grandparents came to Madison and prospered as farmers.  Three of Walter's uncles became captains and important Lake Erie vessel masters.  Walter's father served in the Civil War and settled in our county for a short period of time before succumbing to his pioneer yearning and heading west.

Walter's career began with some writing endeavors for the Cincinnati Daily Gazette in the 1870's.  Walter and his brother Frank started a newspaper in 1880-81- The Cincinnati Post.  Another daily newpaper soon followed.  Known as the Penny Paper, it was the only penny daily between Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.  Their target audience was the industrial working class.  Wellman sold controlling interest in the paper to the Scripp's family.  This association with the Scripp's group led to the Post, Cleveland Press, Times-Star and some other 17 locals being launched.

After a brief span of years under the radar, Wellman re-emerged with the Chicago Herald and Record-Herald.  In 1891 it was reported that Wellman found the exact landing spot of Christopher Columbus.  In 1894 and again in 1898 a trek to the North Pole by dirigible ensued.  He attempted the treks again in 1909 and 1910 before losing the moment to Perry.  A cross Atlantic trip by airship garnered headlines in 1910.  Wellman's explorations set records and even recorded a first- wireless messages sent from land to air.  However these flights took their toll.  Wellman was a hero but dropped from public view and lived out his years quietly in NYC.

Wellman passed in 1934 at the age of 75.  Fame came once again as a 10,500 ton liberty ship was named after him.  Launched in 1944 in Houston, Texas the vessel's back story may never be fully appreciated in 20th century annals.  Wellman lived but a short time in our county but like most pioneers his innovations left a lasting legacy on the American Experience.

Sources:  Newsweek,  Feb. 10, 1934   Scientific America, April 1934  George Stevens article, August 1969

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