Tennessee River “Flying Machine”

On August 2, 1891 the Knoxville Tribune ran an article titled “Ready for Passengers.”  It was a glowing account describing “a wonderful car that flies across the river–the first and only cable line in the U.S. or the world.”  But it was not yet ready for passengers and successful trips were delayed more than 2 years.  When it finally went into operation, over 1000 ft of cable spanned the Tennessee River from near the mouth of Third Creek to the summit of the south bluff, known as Longstreet’s Heights,  more than 200 feet above the river.  A 15 ft x 6.5 ft cable car was hung on 2 cables by 4 grooved wheels.  It was propelled by a steam engine located on the north bank.  After several successful trips, including  numerous trips on Sunday February 18, 1894, the unexpected occurred and the following morning the Knoxville Tribune announced – “A Death in Mid-air.”  A cable had broke just before the car reached the southern bluff and the car slid back at great speed down the incline to the middle of the river, where it remained suspended in the air.  While seven passengers were rescued, one was killed.  The noble experiment and its demise was covered in the popular national monthly Scientific American,  in its March 1894 issue.  The Flying Machine was just one of many unsuccessful attempts in the 19th century to link the South Waterfront to the City of Knoxville.  [Photo from Scientific American]

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