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Tanforan 1910 Aviation Meet: Rambling Bits of History

by Susan Saperstein

Horseracing was a popular pastime in the early days of San Francisco. However, most of the race tracks failed as business ventures for reasons including the difficulty of getting there (before paved roads), competition from other tracks, poor financial planning, municipal laws, and the City wanting the land.

A number of wealthy San Francisco horse owners banded together in 1899 to build the Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno. Its investors wanted to get away from San Francisco laws, and rural San Bruno was mainly a large dairy farm with no municipal regulations. Adolph Spreckles, Leland Stanford, and George Hearst raced their horses here. The track did well even though it was outside the City because the Southern Pacific railroad train and the San Francisco Municipal Railway's No. 40 trolley line brought people from San Francisco to the track.

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Press pass for the Aviation Meet at the Tanforan Race Track in 1910.

But the track needed to find other activities to keep the enterprise going, such as horseless carriage races beginning in the early 1900s.

In 1910 the first Aviation Meets, with the new airplane machines, were held in California. This was six years after the Wright brothers’ flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Los Angeles meet was January 10 - 20, and the one at Tanforan was January 24, 1910. William Randolph Hearst saw these aviation events as a great advertising opportunity in both his Los Angeles and San Francisco Examiner papers. He had a hot air balloon advertising "It's all in the Examiner" at the LA meet.

Frenchman Louis Paulhan was invited to the United States to participate in air shows; this was someone who had taught himself to fly only six months before. Paulhan went to Los Angeles, and then came to the Tanforan Race Track meet. He is credited with flying the first airplane in the Bay Area.

Paulhan flew a plane over eight minutes (8 miles at 60 miles an hour) above the hills west of the Tanforan Race Track.
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Louis Paulhan pilots first airplane flight in San Mateo County from Tanforan Race Track, January 24, 1910.