By Brad Dison
Paul was born in Quincy, Illinois in 1915. Five years later, Paul and his family moved to Davenport, Iowa, where Paul’s father became a candy wholesaler. In 1924, Paul and his family moved to Hialeah, Florida, a principal city of the Miami metropolitan area. By this time, Paul’s father was a partner in the Tibbets & Smith wholesale candy company. Paul’s father’s work as a candy wholesaler put Paul in a situation which changed the trajectory of his and countless others’ lives.
Doug Davis was an aviation enthusiast. In 1917, when Doug was eighteen-years-old, the United States entered World War I. Doug quit school and enlisted in the United States Air Service, forerunner of the Air Force. Doug excelled as a pilot and graduated at the top of his class. His talents were such that, rather than sending him into combat, the Air Service determined that Doug’s talents would be better utilized as a flight instructor, a job he excelled at for two years. In 1919, Doug was discharged from the Air Service, but was determined to keep flying. He purchased a surplus Curtiss JN “Jenny” trainer biplane from the government and formed the Doug Davis Flying Circus.
Flying Circuses were a popular form of entertainment following World War I. In flying circuses, daredevil pilots called barnstormers performed dangerous airplane stunts which seemed to defy the laws of physics. Some of these death-defying stunts included spins, dives, loop-the-loops, barrel rolls, wing walking, stunt parachuting, target shooting, dancing on the plane’s wings during flight, midair plane transfers, and even playing tennis.
In 1924, Otto Schnering, owner of the Curtiss Candy Company, was looking for an innovative way to advertise his company’s new candy bar called Baby Ruth. After witnessing the large crowds that gathered for the stunt shows, Otto decided to sponsor a flying circus. He convinced Doug to merge the Doug Davis Flying Circus with another flying circus and formed the Baby Ruth Flying Circus.
As part of their flying circus show, Doug would select a spectator seemingly at random from the crowd to join him in a flight to perform a special task. In reality, the spectators were preselected and were somehow connected with the Curtiss Candy Company. In 1927, the Baby Ruth Flying Circus was scheduled to perform at the Hialeah Park Race Track, a dog racing and horse racing track near Paul’s home. As the son of Curtiss Candy Company’s main wholesaler for the area, Paul was chosen to fly with Doug. Before the show, Doug explained the task that Paul would perform. Paul was excited but nervous because it was his first flight in an airplane. Doug and Paul took off from the racetrack and flew a large sweeping turn over the racetrack. As they flew over the crowd, Paul began throwing Baby Ruth candy bars from the biplane as he had been instructed. Each candy bar was attached to a small parachute which enabled them to coast safely down to the cheering crowds. Paul said later, “From that day on, I knew I had to fly.”
Paul wanted to become a pilot but Paul’s father wanted him to become a doctor. In 1933, Paul graduated from Western Military Academy. Paul went to the University of Florida to work on his undergraduate degree. While there, with the encouragement of his mother, Paul took flying lessons. To satisfy his father’s wishes, he began his pre-med studies at the University of Cincinnati, but, after a year-and-a-half, Paul decided against becoming a medical doctor. Instead, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps to become a pilot.
Paul had a distinguished military career. In 1938, Paul was commissioned as a second lieutenant and received his pilot rating. In 1940 and 1941, Paul served as Brigadier General George S. Patton’s personal pilot. When the United States entered World War II, Paul was the commanding officer of a bombardment squadron of B-17s. He captained numerous bomber aircraft during his military career, rose through the ranks, and retired in 1966 as a Brigadier General. Paul is remembered for a single bombing mission he flew in the final year of World War II. On August 5, 1945, eighteen years after Paul dropped Baby Ruth candy bars from an airplane, Paul Tibbets flew the Enola Gay, a bomber named after his mother, that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Photo caption: A Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” in 1918
- SeattleTimes.com “Paul Tibbets, Pilot Who Bombed Hiroshima, Dies at 92.” Accessed April 10, 2022. seattletimes.com/nation-world/paul-tibbets-pilot-who-bombed-hiroshima-dies-at-92/
- Scott Magelssen, Performing Flight: From the Barnstormers to Space Tourism (University of Michigan Press, 2020), p.38.
- The Miami Herald, August 6, 1978, p.31.
- The Miami News, August 6, 1982, p.6.
- Dayton Daily News, November 28, 1989, p.25.
- Chicago Tribune, February 2, 2003, p.1-17.
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