852 RARE: The Weekly Special – Visions of Airships over Kissimmee

In March 1909, the town of Kissimmee City, in central Florida, sent the Harvard Law School Library a slender 79-page volume of The Revised ordinances of the town of Kissimmee City, published in 1892. Not surprisingly, the ordinances address the powers and responsibilities of local officials and issues of public health and safety typical of the ordinances of many other small American towns in the late 19th century.

However, folded and bound in at the end of the 1892 ordinances, is a single sheet publication with the eye-catching title: “Airship Ordinance Suggested … from The Kissimmee Valley Gazette … July 17, 1908.”


The article’s excited prose pushes the limit of credulity, but it is certainly entertaining. Aviation may have been in its infancy, but “determined that Kissimmee shall not be caught napping when the new means of locomotion shall burst upon an astonished atmosphere, Mayor T.M. Murphy has prepared the following ordinance” which would “doubtless serve as a model to municipalities throughout the civilized world.” The 11-section ordinance begins by noting that the boundaries of the town would “extend upward in a vertical direction for a distance of twenty miles in the sky.” As the ordinance continues, it’s clear that the mayor and city council left nothing to chance when it came to considering new safety concerns raised by all manner of airships or in the assessing of annual license taxes and fees on airplanes, helicopters, balloons, dirigibles, ornithopters, “or other type of flying machine or airship.” Violations were punishable “by fine of not more than [$500], or by imprisonment in the local calaboose for not more than ninety days …“

Unlike most municipal ordinances, this one makes quite entertaining reading but was, apparently,  only a bit of creative whimsy on the part of Kissimmee City’s attorney P.A. Vans-Agnew and was never passed by the city council.  In the meantime, however–according to Florida writer Stuart McIver (1921-2008)*–the U.S War Department asked for a copy; Mayor T.M. Murphy was “hailed as a visionary”; and “even great cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam modeled their airspace regulations on the cow town’s ordinance.” 

* Stuart McIver. Dreamers, schemers, and scalawags. (Pineapple Press, 1994), p. 199-200.

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