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Dryden's own General has amazing history


March 10, 2010
Editor's Note: The following is the first of a three part guest column submitted by Almont native Larry Bentz, now a resident of Clinton Township. Bentz holds BS and MBA degrees from Michigan State University and works in corporate finance.

I visited General Squier Park near Dryden many times while I was growing up in Almont but never knew much about Squier. Recently, I decided to learn more about him, so I searched the Internet and found thousands of pages written by and about him. Sifting through the myriad of inaccuracies by his biographers was a major task. I found errors about Squier even on the Michigan Historical Marker at the park.

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Gen. George Owen Squier
Although generally unknown to the public today, Squier was world famous during his lifetime. As an Army officer, he was a key figure in the development of the airplane and radio for our national defense. As a scientist, his inventions laid the groundwork for the development of our modern telecommunications systems. As a businessman, he formed a famous radio broadcasting company.

George Owen Squier was born March 21, 1865 near Dryden. While his surname is commonly misspelled and mispronounced "Squire," it is spelled "Squier" and is pronounced like the word "square." Squier is an English surname derived from the ancient French-Norman surname, Squair, which connotes social status.

After going through only the 8th grade and working for two years, Squier gained admission to the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY). He majored in physics, graduated with high honor in 1887, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Artillery Corps. The War Department sent him to Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) to study ballistics and electrical science. When he completed graduate studies there in 1893, he was promoted to first lieutenant and became Dr. Squier—the Army's first officer to hold a Ph.D.

Squier transferred to the Signal Corps as a captain and served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). He commanded the Army ship Burnside that laid 1,300 miles of underwater telegraph cable in the Philippines for army use.

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Squier returned to the U.S. in 1903 (the same year Orville Wright became the world's first airplane pilot) and served as Signal School Commandant. He lectured on aeronautics at the school (the Signal Corps had responsibility for Army reconnaissance balloons and dirigibles) and followed the progress of the Wright Brothers. Like the visionary Billy Mitchell who served under him at the school, Squier foresaw the military importance of the airplane, especially the bomber. While Assistant Chief Signal Officer as a major in 1906, Squier became the first military passenger on an airplane when he accepted Orville Wright's invitation to fly with him at Fort Myer, VA near Washington, D.C. News of the flight caused Congress to adjourn and inspect the airplane at Fort Myer.

Although the Army had little interest in and no budget for airplanes, Squier convinced the Chief Signal Officer in 1907 to form the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps (first of six Army predecessors to the air force). Squier wrote the specifications for the Army's first airplane, was head of the army board responsible for evaluating acceptance trials of airplanes, and flew as observer on some of these trials.

In 1908, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, a promising army airplane designer, became the first military pilot when he flew an airplane designed and built by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Later that year, he flew as observer on an airplane piloted by Orville Wright during an Army acceptance trial at Fort Myer. Tragically and ironically, the plane crashed in Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to Fort Myer. Wright was hospitalized and Selfridge died, becoming the first airplane fatality. He was buried in the cemetery near the crash site. When an Army air base opened near Mount Clemens in 1917, Squier named it Selfridge Field (renamed Selfridge Air Force Base in 1947 and Selfridge Air National Guard Base in 1971) in honor of the lieutenant.

After an acceptance trial attended by President Taft, the Army purchased the U.S. military's first airplane in 1909, the Wright Military Flyer, built by Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright brothers had asked $100,000 for the airplane but the army agreed to pay $25,000 plus a $5,000 bonus for exceeding the speed requirement of 40 miles per hour.

Squier conducted radio experiments at the National Bureau of Standards 1909-1911.He went to England in 1912 at the rank of lieutenant colonel to serve as military attaché to the U.S. Embassy in London. While there, he conducted a study of European radio usage and aviation tactics during the first two years of World War I (1914-1915) and presented his findings to the War Department. Meanwhile, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps (second Army predecessor to the Air Force) had been plagued with serious problems—pilot deaths due to inadequate training and unsafe aircraft, insubordination, and insufficient funding by Congress. In 1916, President Wilson recalled Squier to the U.S. and appointed him Chief of the Aviation Section (1916-1918) with orders to correct these problems— and he did.

Look for more on Dryden's General Squier in upcoming issues of the Tri-City Times.

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