Barnstorming was a form of entertainment in which stunt pilots performed tricks, either individually or in groups called flying circuses. Devised to "impress people with the skill of pilots and the sturdiness of planes",[1] it became popular in the United States during the Roaring Twenties.[2] Barnstormers were pilots who flew throughout the country selling airplane rides and performing stunts; Charles Lindbergh first began flying in this capacity.[3]

Curtiss JN-4 in flight over Central Ontario
A Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" in flight over Central Ontario c. 1918



Moisant-John 03
An advertising poster for the early flying exhibition team, the Moisant International Aviators

The Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss had early flying exhibition teams, with solo flyers like Lincoln Beachey and Didier Masson also popular before World War I, but barnstorming did not become a formal phenomenon until the 1920s.

During World War I, the United States manufactured a significant number of Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplanes to train its military aviators and almost every U.S. airman learned to fly using the plane. After the war the U.S. federal government sold off the surplus material, including the Jennys, for a fraction of its initial value (they had cost the government $5,000 but were being sold for as low as $200).[4] This allowed many servicemen who already knew how to fly the JN-4s, to purchase their own planes. The similar-looking Standard J-1 biplane was also available.

At the same time, numerous aircraft manufacturing companies sprang up, most going broke after building only a handful of planes. Many of these were reliable and even advanced designs which suffered from the failure of the aviation market to expand as expected, and a number of these found their way into the only active markets—mail carrying, barnstorming, and smuggling. Sometimes a plane and its owner would drift between the three activities as opportunity presented.

Combined with the lack of Federal Aviation Regulations at the time, these factors allowed barnstorming to flourish.

Growth and heyday

Barnstorming was performed not only by former military men, but also by women, minorities, and women minorities (e.g., Bessie Coleman).[5] For example, on July 18, 1915, Katherine Stinson became the first woman in the world to perform a loop.[4] Bessie Coleman, an African-American woman, "not only thrilled audiences with her skills as a barnstormer, but she also became a role model for women and African Americans. Her very presence in the air threatened prevailing contemporary stereotypes. She also fought segregation when she could by using her influence as a celebrity".[5]

"More than any single event, Lindbergh's historic 1927 flight made Americans aware of the potential of commercial aviation, and there followed a boom in aviation activity during 1928 and 1929".[3] In fact, Charles Lindbergh engaged in barnstorming in his early years; Errold Bahl hired him as an assistant, and as a promotional stunt, Lindbergh "volunteered to climb out onto the wing and wave to the crowds below", which came to be known as "wing-walking".[1]

Regulation and decline

The sensational journalism and economic prosperity that marked the Jazz Age in the United States allowed barnstormers to publicize aviation and eventually contributed to bringing about regulation and control.[3] In 1925, the U.S. government began regulating aviation, when it passed the Contract Air Mail Act, which allowed the U.S. Post Office to hire private airlines to deliver mail, with payments based on the weight of the mail. The following year, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Air Commerce Act, which shifted the management of air routes to a new branch in the Department of Commerce, which was also responsible for "licensing of planes and pilots, establishing safety regulations, and general promotion".[6][7]

Barnstorming "seemed to be founded on bravado, with 'one-upmanship' a major incentive".[8] By 1927, competition among barnstormers resulted in their performing increasingly dangerous tricks, and a rash of highly publicized accidents led to new safety regulations, which led to the demise of barnstorming. Spurred by a perceived need to protect the public and in response to political pressure by local pilots upset at barnstormers stealing their customers, the federal government enacted laws to regulate a fledgling civil aviation sector.

The laws included safety standards and specifications that were virtually impossible for barnstormers to meet, and restrictions on how low in altitude certain tricks could be performed (making it harder for spectators to see what was happening). The military also stopped selling Jennys in the late 1920s. This made it too difficult for barnstormers to make a living. Clyde Pangborn, who was pilot of the two-man aviation team who were the first to cross the Pacific Ocean nonstop in 1931, ended his barnstorming career in 1931.[9] Some pilots, however, continued to wander the country giving rides as late as fall 1941.



"Barnstorming season" ran from early spring until after the harvest and county fairs in the fall. Most barnstorming shows started with a pilot, or team of pilots flying over a small rural town to attract local attention. They would then land at a local farm (hence the "barnstorming") and negotiate for the use of a field as a temporary runway from which to stage an air show and offer airplane rides. After obtaining a base of operation, the pilot or group of aviators would "buzz" the village dropping flyers.[1] In some towns the arrival of a barnstormer or an aerial troop would lead to a townwide shutdown as people attended the show.


Barnstormers performed a variety of stunts, with some specializing as stunt pilots or aerialists. Stunt pilots performed a variety of aerobatic maneuvers, including spins, dives, loop-the-loops and barrel rolls, while aerialists performed feats of wing walking, stunt parachuting, midair plane transfers, or even playing tennis, target shooting, and dancing on the plane's wings. Other stunts include nose dives and flying through barns and this sometimes led to pilots crashing their planes.[4]


Barnstormers offered plane rides for a small fee; Charles Lindbergh, for example, charged five dollars for a 15-minute ride in his plane.[3] However exciting and glamorous, it was not an easy way to make a steady living, and to make ends meet barnstormers, including Charles Lindbergh, had to moonlight as flying instructors, handymen, and sometimes even gas station attendants.[1] Barnstormers often traded plane rides for room and board, both for commercial lodging and in private homes.[3]

Flying circuses

Although barnstormers often worked in solitude or in very small teams, some also put together large "flying circuses" with several planes and stunt people. These acts employed promoters to book shows in towns ahead of time. They were the largest and most organized of all of the barnstorming acts. Some of the most famous were “The Five Blackbirds” (an African American flying group), “The Flying Aces Air Circus”, “The 13 Black Cats”, “Mabel Cody’s Flying Circus”, "Inman Brothers Flying Circus", and the “Gates Flying Circus”,[10] to which Clyde Pangborn belonged until 1928.


Barnstorming was the first major form of civil aviation in the history of aviation. It was also one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the Roaring Twenties.

At an individual level, barnstorming "provided an exciting and challenging way to make a living, as well as an outlet for their creativity and showmanship", for many pilots and stuntsmen. For example, it allowed Charles Lindbergh to make a marginal living, and he always spoke fondly of the "old flying days" and the freedom of movement. It was during a barnstorming tour in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 1923 that led to his "decision to pursue further formal instruction with the U.S. Army Air Service".[3]

Cadet Squadron 23 at the United States Air Force Academy is known as the "Barnstormers".[11]

Notable barnstormers

In popular culture


Movies and TV

Video games

In 2004 Murware produced a Barnstorming (video game) Barnstormers for Android

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Daredevil Lindbergh and His Barnstorming Days". PBS. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  2. ^ David H. Onkst. "Clyde 'Upside-Down' Pangborn". U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bruce L. Larson (Summer 1991). "Barnstorming with Lindbergh" (PDF). Minnesota History. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 231–238.
  4. ^ a b c "Barnstorming History". Southern Biplane Adventures. Archived from the original on 24 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b David H. Onkst. "Women in History: Bessie Coleman". USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  6. ^ Andrew Glass (May 20, 2013). "Congress passed Air Commerce Act, May 20, 1926". Politico.
  7. ^ "The Air Commerce Act of 1926". AvStop Online Magazine. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Aviation Pioneers". National Park Service. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  9. ^ Priscilla Long (October 12, 2005). "Pangborn, Clyde Edward (1894-1958)". HistoryLink.
  10. ^ a b "The History of Barnstorming". May 31, 2011.
  11. ^ "CS-23 Patch "Barnstormers"". Association of Graduates United States Air Force Academy. USAFA. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
1925 Chicago Bears season

The 1925 Chicago Bears season was their sixth regular season completed in the National Football League. The club posted a 9–5–3 record under head coach George Halas earning them a seventh-place finish in the team standings, their worst showing to that date. However, the 1925 Bears were the most notable team in the young NFL's history to that point—all because of the addition of college star Red Grange.

Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies

Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies is a 1973 American adventure-comedy film based on a story by Steven Spielberg. The film centers on a barnstorming pilot (Cliff Robertson) and his son (Eric Shea) as they fly around the United States in the 1920s, having adventures along the way. English actress Pamela Franklin provided the love interest. One of the driving forces behind the production, Robertson was a pilot in real life, although Hollywood stunt pilot Frank Tallman flew most of the aerial scenes.

All-American Red Heads

The All-American Red Heads were one of the first professional women's basketball teams. In 1936, almost 50 years after women's basketball began, C. M. "Ole" Olson(who also founded Oson's Terrible Swedes) started a barnstorming team which would play around the country until 1986. The name of the team came from Olson's wife, who owned a number of beauty salons in the south. They played by men's rules and were a smash success with the audience. They were so successful as an exhibition team that they fostered two other teams, the Ozark Hillbillies and the Famous Red Heads.

Two of the early players for the team were Geneva (Jean) and Jo Langerman. Jean and Jo were the twin daughters of "Mama" Langerman, an unmarried beautician who moved from town to town. The twins led three teams to the state tournament, finishing third in 1931 at Whittemore, Iowa, and winning the state championships while at Parkersburg, and Hampton, Iowa in 1932, and 1933. Following their high school career, they played for an AAU team, winning the national championship in 1934, then joined the All-American Red Heads. As a result of their accomplishments, they were inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Basketball Hall of Fame.Orwell Moore, a high school coach, coached two of the teams from 1948 and then purchased them. The teams boasted AAU All-American players and stars like Peggy Lawson, Kay Kirkpatrick, and Hazel Walker. Other stars included Willa “Red” Mason, Johnny Farley, Barb Hostert,

Jolene Ammons and Cheryl Clark. Orwell Moore's wife, Lorene “Butch” Moore, was also a

spectacular Red Heads player. Through the 1960s and 1970s, three teams toured. During the off-season, players taught basketball to girls. Orwell also began Camp Courage, a basketball camp for girls. Charlotte Adams, Glenda Hall, Kay O'Bryan and Jolene Ammons became player coaches.

The All-American Red Heads had up to three teams on the road at the same time. Seasons ran from October to late April or early May. The season consisted of approximately 200 games and the teams would travel over 60,000 miles by car.

Barnstorming America, Stories from the Pioneers of Women's Basketball Book

Andy Cooper

Andrew Lewis Cooper (April 24, 1898 – June 3, 1941), nicknamed "Lefty", was an American left-handed pitcher in baseball's Negro Leagues. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. An alumnus of Paul Quinn College in Waco, Cooper played nine seasons for the Detroit Stars and ten seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Texan was 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall and weighed 220 pounds (100 kg; 16 st).

In defiance of a threatened five-year Negro league ban for contract jumping, Cooper joined a 1927 barnstorming team that toured Hawaii and Japan. He spent most of his later career with the Monarchs. Cooper is the Negro league record holder for career saves. In a 1937 playoff game, he pitched 17 innings. Cooper served as manager or player-manager for the Monarchs from 1937 to 1940, leading the team to the pennant three times during those four seasons.

Barnstorm (sports)

In athletics terminology, barnstorming refers to sports teams or individual athletes that travel to various locations, usually small towns, to stage exhibition matches. Barnstorming teams differ from traveling teams in that they operate outside the framework of an established athletic league, while traveling teams are designated by a league, formally or informally, to be a designated visiting team.Barnstorming allowed athletes to compete in two sports; for example, Goose Reece Tatum played basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters and baseball for a Negro Leagues barnstorming team. Some barnstorming teams lack home arenas, while others go on "barnstorming tours" in the off-season.

Barnstorming (disambiguation)

Barnstorming is a type of stunt piloting (also known as "Flying Circus") performed in the 1920s; the term was earlier used for rural political campaigns, and in general is used to mean a traveling performance.

Barnstorm, barnstormers or barnstorming may also refer to:

Barnstorming (video game), released on the Atari 2600 in 1982

Barnstorm (band), rock band from 1972-74 featuring Joe Walsh

Barnstorm (album), rock album released by Barnstorm and Joe Walsh

Barnstorm (sports), sports teams that travel between cities performing in front of crowds

Lancaster Barnstormers, American Professional Baseball team based in Lancaster, PA

Iowa Barnstormers, American football team

Barnstormer, band led by Attila the Stockbroker

Barnstormers (band), Decatur, Alabama based folk band.

Barnstormers, episode of The Shield television series

Barnstorming (video game)

Barnstorming is an Atari 2600 video game designed by Steve Cartwright and published by Activision in 1982. It was the first game designed by Cartwright. The idea for Barnstorming came to him as he watched a biplane one day while driving home from work.

Cyclone Joe Williams

Joseph Williams (April 6, 1886 – February 25, 1951), nicknamed "Cyclone Joe" or "Smokey Joe", was an American right-handed pitcher in the Negro leagues. He is widely recognized as one of the game's greatest pitchers, even though he never played a game in the major leagues. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Dayton Marcos

The Dayton Marcos were a Negro league baseball team based from Dayton, Ohio that played during the early twentieth century.

Indianapolis Clowns

The Indianapolis Clowns were a professional baseball team in the Negro American League. Tracing their origins back to the 1930s, the Clowns were the last of the Negro League teams to disband, continuing to play exhibition games into the 1980s. They began play as the independent Ethiopian Clowns, joined the Negro American League as the Cincinnati Clowns and, after a couple of years, relocated to Indianapolis. Hank Aaron was a Clown for a short period, and the Clowns were also one of the first professional baseball teams to hire a female player.

Kansas City Monarchs

The Kansas City Monarchs were the longest-running franchise in the history of baseball's Negro Leagues. Operating in Kansas City, Missouri and owned by J. L. Wilkinson, they were charter members of the Negro National League from 1920 to 1930. J. L. Wilkinson was the first Caucasian owner at the time of the establishment of the team. In 1930, the Monarchs became the first professional baseball team to use a portable lighting system which was transported from game to game in trucks to play games at night, five years before any major league team did. The Monarchs won ten league championships before integration, and triumphed in the first Negro League World Series in 1924. The Monarchs had only one season in which they did not have a winning record. After sending more players to the major leagues than any other Negro League franchise, the team was finally disbanded in 1965.

Long Island Sound (UWLX)

The Long Island Sound are a United Women's Lacrosse League (UWLX) professional women's field lacrosse team based in Long Island, New York. They have played in the UWLX since the 2016 season. In the 2016 season, the four teams in the UWLX will play on a barnstorming format, with all four teams playing at a single venue.

Mobile Black Bears

The Mobile Black Bears, also known as the Mobile Black Shippers, was a semi-professional baseball team composed entirely of African-American players. The team, which played during the mid-20th century, was based in Mobile, Alabama, and also went on barnstorming tours.Henry "Hank" Aaron played for the Mobile Black Bears in 1951 while he was still in high school. He was only allowed to play at home games and only on Sundays.

New York Black Yankees

The New York Black Yankees were a professional Negro league baseball team based in New York City, Paterson, NJ, and Rochester, NY which played in the Negro National League from 1936 to 1948. The Black Yankees played in Paterson, New Jersey from 1933-1937 and then from 1939-1945. The 1938 season saw the Black Yankees trying their fate at New York's Triborough Stadium. Paterson's strong fan support returned the Black Yankees to Paterson's Hinchliffe Stadium.

New York Fight

The New York Fight are a Women's Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) professional women's field lacrosse team based in Long Island, New York. They have played in the WPLL since the 2018 season. In the 2018 season, the five teams in the WPLL will play on a barnstorming format, with all five teams playing at a single venue.

Philadelphia Fire

The Philadelphia Fire are a Women's Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) professional women's field lacrosse team based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They have played in the WPLL since the 2018 season. In the 2018 season, the five teams in the WPLL will play on a barnstorming format, with all five teams playing at a single venue.

Philadelphia Force (UWLX)

The Philadelphia Force are a United Women's Lacrosse League (UWLX) professional women's field lacrosse team based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They have played in the UWLX since the 2016 season. In the 2016 season, the four teams in the UWLX will play on a barnstorming format, with all four teams playing at a single venue.

Traveling team

In professional team sports, a traveling team (also called a road team) is a member of a professional league that never competes in its home arena or stadium. This differs from a barnstorming team as a barnstorming team competes in exhibition games and not within a league or association framework as a traveling team does. While leagues may designate a traveling team prior to the start of competition, some teams become road teams by simply not scheduling any home games.

While the use of traveling teams has been sparing on the upper levels of professional sports in recent times, the National Football League had such road teams (such as the Hammond Pros, Oorang Indians, and Columbus Panhandles) in the formative years of the league. Recently, such teams have been almost invariably associated with minor leagues.

Upstate Pride

The Upstate Pride are a Women's Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) professional women's field lacrosse team based in Albany, New York. They have played in the WPLL since the 2018 season. In the 2018 season, the five teams in the WPLL will play on a barnstorming format, with all five teams playing at a single venue.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.