By Chuck King
Above, a drawing of the Coyne Helicopter Airship that appeared in the Los Angeles Herald in 1910.
I enjoy collecting interesting items from the Spokane area, and then doing the research to learn the history of the people involved. You never know what kind of interesting story will come along.
This was the case in my search for information on a man from Spokane, who in 1904 had won a trophy for a racehorse he entered at the Interstate Fair. I acquired the trophy a few years ago. After a little searching, I found out that this guy, a man with two middle names, was a dentist in the area.
What I found next was a real surprise. I found a story of this same dentist starting his own business building helicopters. Helicopters? In 1910?
The Wright Brothers flew their plane in 1903, and of course, that started a huge boom in excitement about flying. Leonardo Da Vinci had drawn some type of helicopter-looking-thing over five hundred years ago, so I did some reading on the subject.
Around 1907, a few people were playing with the idea of a helicopter, mainly in Europe. With new technology, like gasoline-powered engines, inventors and engineers could keep propellers turning at a high rate of speed. So at that time, Dr. Coyne was working with “cutting edge technology.” I put the news stories into a three-ring binder where it sat until the summer of 2015.
While at an estate sale I came across a brochure from the Coyne Helicopter Airship Company, and of course, I bought it. The brochure got me thinking again, and I did some more research.
William Everett Sylvester Coyne was born September 3, 1866 in Glencoe, Middlesex County, in Ontario, Canada. On January 4, 1888, he married Jane Ann Bullivant, also from Ontario, born in April 1868. Soon after, the newly married couple moved to Florida, and on December 30, 1888, their first daughter, Winona Gertrude, was born.
By 1891, the couple had moved to Seattle, and William filed his papers of citizenship on July 26, which were approved July 27, 1894. According to the 1892 Seattle City Directory, he was a dentist.
The first records of the family in Spokane are from 1895, and again, William Coyne is listed as a dentist. His office was in the Post Office Block. The family lived in the Union Park addition, first at 2024 E. 2nd Avenue, then they moved one block east. No doubt the family must have gone skating and had picnics at Liberty Park, which had opened just a short distance away in 1896. By 1899, the family had grown, and Dr. Coyne and his wife had four children. By 1901, he had moved his offices into the Ziegler Block.
The year 1902 brought another daughter, and another in 1905. Sadly, both died not long after being born. They are buried at Fairmount Memorial Cemetery.
In 1908, the Coyne family moved into a home in Browne’s Addition at 428 S. Coeur d’Alene Street. Also in 1908, their first son, John, was born. The family again moved in 1910, to a home at 602 E. Boone in the Gonzaga neighborhood. That same year, Dr. Coyne moved his offices to room 321 in the Paulsen Building. This was where the main office of the Coyne Helicopter Airship Co. was located, as well.
Dr. Coyne was very mechanically inclined and had been closely following the current news of air travel. Coyne brought in a partner, George Foster, who did marketing and public relations.
According to his 1927 obituary, Foster “was widely known.” The Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that he was “an extreme radical in his political and socialistic views,” and he was prominent as a labor leader in the American Railway Union strike of 1894. He also had been involved as manager of the short-lived (1903-1904) Weekly Winston, an independently owned newspaper started by Patrick Henry Winston, former Attorney General and U.S. District Attorney who had, according to his obituary, come to Spokane and purchased an interest in the Spokane Review (now the Spokesman Review). Winston was its editor for over a year.
Foster’s newspaper experience can be seen in the dramatic sales pitches for the Coyne Airship Company.
In July of 1912, a story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle reports that Dr. Coyne had invented a new type of boat propeller, and that he would be moving to San Francisco. Stockholders of the Airship Company would then have an interest in the new Propeller Co. In 1913, Dr. Coyne is listed in the San Francisco directory – still as a dentist. Apparently, he couldn’t get his airship company “off the ground.”