"Most of the aviation industry here was an outgrowth of the bicycle industry," Percy said. "There were more than 50 bicycle makers in the area — and they applied that technology to the aircraft industry. They both had to be lightweight. People wanted lightweight bicycles ... and lightweight airplanes."
Bicyclists' fascination with flying lead to the creation of the Aero Club of Buffalo around 1900. It was incorporated in 1910, only seven years after the Wright brothers' first took flight at Kitty Hawk, and was one of the earliest clubs of its kind in the world, Percy said.
The same year, the first airplane flight in Western New York took place and Curtiss Aeroplane Company incorporated in Hammondsport ... and there was no going back.
By 1916, Curtiss had moved its headquarters to Buffalo, where it manufactured thousands of aircraft and employed thousands of area workers. In 1920, the company started the first commercial airport in the Buffalo area, Curtiss Flying Field (also known as Curtiss Aerodrome and Curtiss Airdrome), near Niagara Falls Boulevard and Sheridan Drive, which served as the principal airport for the area until Buffalo Municipal Airport opened in 1926, Percy said.
In 1929, Consolidated Aircraft Corp. built its own airport in the area, on Military Road in the Town of Tonawanda.
"When Consolidated Aircraft came here, they constructed a test field out there at the end of Knoche Road, across the railroad tracks," not far from where the Tonawanda-Kenmore Historical Society building stands now, Percy said. He recalled riding his bicycle out to the field to watch.
"I was a kid growing up during the war," he said, "and it was a pretty exciting time, to see the planes come and go."
Also in 1929, the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company became part of the newly formed Curtiss-Wright Corp., which had its headquarters in Buffalo and plants on Kenmore Avenue at Vulcan Street and Genesee Street. Workers at those plants manufactured thousands of military aircraft, including the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk, which was instrumental in World War II, Percy said.