Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation
 > Home > About The Museum > History > Early Civilian Aviation

Early Civilian Aviation


Bleriot Outside Hanger
Blériot monoplane outside the National Aeroplane Company hangar, College Park, 1912. CPAM Photograph

Although College Park Airport originated as a military airfield, it was civilian aviators and inventors that ensured its continued operation.

Inventor and patent attorney, Rexford Smith founded the first company at College Park in 1910. With an aeroplane of his own design, Rex Smith made many noteworthy flights over the Washington area. Well-publicized flights around the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol put the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company at the center of media activity and the focus of the Washington social elite.

From 1912-1915, the Washington Aeroplane Company used College Park to design and manufacture the "Columbia" monoplane and other aircraft. One of the original sponsors of the Washington Aeroplane Company was Emile Berliner, who brought his vertical flight experiments to the field in 1920. 

In 1915, 22-year-old pilot Cecil Peoli purchased the Washington Aeroplane Company to build and test a large plane he hoped to sell to the U.S. Navy. Peoli planned to build the biggest biplane ever for long distance flights. The plane managed to rise only a 100 feet in the air before crashing to the ground and crushing Peoli to death on April 12, 1915.

Starting in 1911, the National Aviation Company (NAC) also operated at the airfield. Instead of designing aircraft, NAC gave flight lessons in Curtiss, Bleriot, and Wright aeroplanes and repaired them as well.