Short Brothers Aviation Pioneers

HORACE Leonard Short

Born 2nd. July 1872 at Chilton Colliery, Durham and died at Parsonage Farm, Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey in 1917

The famous aviator C.F. Fairey wrote of Horace…

“I joined Messrs. Short Brothers. Here I had the privilege of working with the greatest engineer I have ever met, Horace Short, a man who can be truly described as a genius and who taught me more than I ever learned in college or elsewhere. He is a practical engineer and has made his name as an aeroplane builder and as a man in whose hands pilots were safe. His machines never failed them.”

An article in the Daily Mail newspaper describes Horace…

“A dominant brilliant fighting character who resented discipline, radiated sudden electric ideas, exploded at fools and dreamed tremendous visions.”

Of his death the Daily Mail reported…

“The human dynamo has run down.”

Horace did not share the same enthusiasm about balloons as his brothers. Instead, he joined Charles Parsons in Newcastle, with whom he was closely associated in the development of an original steam turbine of that name.
Earlier, with the help of Colonel Gourand, ex-U.S. army and Thomas Edison’s European representative, Horace equipped a laboratory in Hove, Sussex. There he invented and made a very powerful high-quality pneumatic phonograph which he called a Gouraphone.

Horace erected this ‘contraption’ in Eiffel’s room at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the occasion of the Paris show in 1900 where it was heard all over the city.

horace leonard short pneumatic phonograph gouraphone
The high-quality pneumatic Gouraphone Horace invented

Horace was accompanied to Paris by Eustace and Oswald, but they took more interest in the display of balloons at the Exhibition than the magnification of sound by the Gouraphone.

They designed and built coal-gas balloons in the loft of Horace’s Hove laboratory. They launched them from St. Anne’s Well in Hove.
When Eustace and Oswald saw that the future lay in heavier-than-air machines and not balloon flight they realised they needed the genius of Horace, as an engineer, to design these new flying machines and so in 1908 the company of Short Brothers was formed.

Horace relocated his family to Parsonage Farm at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, close to his work. He continued as Short’s chief designer and in 1912 produced Britain’s first seaplane. He developed a hydroplane that could not only take off and land on water but also carry three passengers.

horaces family leonard marie catherine ollivier ruby and francisco
Horace’s family…Leonard, Marie Catherine Ollivier, Ruby and Francisco
Eustace, Horace and Oswald at Muswell Manor 1909
Eustace, Horace and Oswald at Muswell Manor 1909

Horace died at Eastchurch in 1917. The following passage from his obituary in The Aeronautical Journal of October-December 1917 states …

In any other country than this, such a man would have found his name a household word and his story would have been one of the most familiar among all classes of the community. What the British Navy owes to him it is impossible adequately to state. The lapse of years will cause his work to emerge in true perspective. No better testimony of this can be offered than the unanimous decision of the British aircraft industry to raise a suitable memorial to him at the earliest opportunity. The nation is richer for his life and work stop.

[editor in 2021… We await this memorial.]