On September 20, 1865, in a field near Luckenbach, a German immigrant climbed inside a strange machine of his own invention.
He had given it wings modeled on those of a bird, a propeller, rudder and even an enclosed cockpit. It was powered by a giant coiled spring like those found in clock mechanisms of the time, but built on a grander scale. It even had a boat propeller in case he was forced to make a water landing.
This was his moment, nearly twenty years in the making.
Jacob Brodbeck was born in Germany and came to Texas as a young man, settling in Fredericksburg in 1847. He taught school and became a surveyor, but above all, he had a Jules Vernesian obsession with things mechanical. He had invented an self winding watch and an ice making contraption, but his magnum opus was his "airship."
Jacob had demonstrated small models of the airship at local fairs and had been encouraged by their success and the public interest. In June of 1865, barely two months after the Civil War had ended, he began selling shares of airship company to investors. Success would make them all richer than the railroad barons.
The appointed hour came. The crowd was tense with anticipation. Would they see a man soar into the sky, or would they see him torn apart by his invention? Jacob released the mechanism that held back the tension coiled in the big spring.
The airship began to move, first crawling forward, then faster and faster. Eyes were wide and mouths agape. It was off the ground and climbing. It reached an altitude of nearly twelve feet when Mr. Murphy showed up to enforce his law.
Whatever mechanism regulated the spring failed and it unwound like a crazed snake, sending the airship and its inventor careening into a chicken coop. The flight had covered about one hundred feet.
Though there were numerous reliable witnesses and published newspaper accounts, the world took little interest and potential investors shied away. Maybe there was just too much happening in the wake of the war's end or maybe giving a man money to potentially commit suicide was not to their taste.
Though Jacob recovered quickly from his injuries, there would be no money for a second attempt.