Brazil's Daredevil of the Air

By Page, Joseph A. | Americas (English Edition), March-April 1993 | Go to article overview

Brazil's Daredevil of the Air

Page, Joseph A., Americas (English Edition)

IN THE RESORT TOWN of Petropolis, where the Brazilian royal family once repaired to avoid the tropical diseases that ravaged Rio de Janeiro during the summer months, a peculiar structure resembling an oversized bird house in the style of a Swiss chalet clings unobtrusively to the side of a hill. The steps from the street are so narrow that a visitor must climb sideways to mount them. The tiny abode, painted white with green trim and topped by a rust-red roof, houses curiosities such as a dining table twice the height of standard furniture, with chairs to match, and what a placard celebrates as the first hot-and-cold-water shower in Brazil, a contraption dating back to 1918.

There is a strong scent of eccentricity in every corner of what has come to be known as the "Enchanted House." And rightly so, for it was designed and inhabited by one of Brazil's most creative and lovable eccentrics, Alberto Santos-Dumont.

In his native land they hail him as the "Father of Aviation." The French, among whom he lived for many years, bestowed upon him the affectionate nickname "Petit Santos". Writer Marcio Souza called him o brasileiro voador ("the flying Brazilian"), and used the phrase as the title of his fictionalized biography of the fearless birdman whose derring-do was the talk of Paris during the belle epoque. Santos-Dumont is an unusual denizen of the Brazilian pantheon of national heroes because he performed his epic feats abroad. Yet his accomplishments were so extraordinary and his style so Brazilian that his fellow citizens took, and continue to take, great and justifiable pride in one of aviation's most fascinating pioneers.

Alberto Santos-Dumont, the last of eight children, was born in 1873 in the sugar-growing region of southern Minas Gerais, near what is now the main highway between Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. His father, the scion of a humble merchant of French descent, managed to earn an engineering degree from a university in France. He returned home to Brazil, married into a traditional Brazilian family and began to farm. In 1879 he acquired a coffee plantation in the state of Sao Paulo. Using modern technology to increase its production, he became an extremely wealthy man.

The young Alberto was a wiry wisp of a boy with dark hair and eyes and large ears. The machinery he encountered on the farm intrigued him, and he set about learning how everything worked. Shy and full of dreams, he immersed himself in the novels of Jules Verne and fantasized about air travel. In 1891 a fall from a horse left Alberto's father partially paralyzed. He took Alberto with him on a trip to Lisbon and Paris, where he consulted with specialists about his condition. The boy fell under the spell of the "City of Lights," and was mesmerized by an internal-combustion engine that was on display at a science exposition. He used his allowance to purchase a Peugeot roadster, the intricacies of which he quickly mastered, and he brought the car back with him to Brazil. It may have been the first automobile to appear in South America.

Realizing that he did not have long to live, Alberto's father decided to emancipate his youngest son and let him return to Paris to continue his education. "We'll see whether you'll make a man of yourself," he wrote in a letter to the 19-year-old boy, whom he advised to study physics and chemistry. "Don't forget," he wrote, "that the future of the world lies in mechanics." Alberto, a reed-thin, diminutive lad, followed his father's counsel. On his own in Paris, he took private classes in the applied sciences, and also traveled to England to attend lectures at the University of Bristol. His education spanned a period of four years.

These were exciting days for anyone interested in technology, which was bursting beyond its frontiers and into territory hitherto inhabited by science-fiction writers. The young Brazilian, after a brief return to his homeland, went back to Paris and immersed himself in the infant science of ballooning. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Brazil's Daredevil of the Air


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.