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Campaigning by Air


Today it’s expected that politicians will take advantage of air travel for political campaigns, but that was not always the case. On this date in 1920, Arthur Townley made the surprising announcement that he was going to campaign on behalf of the Nonpartisan League by air. The NPL said that Townley, the League’s president, was in such demand as a speaker that he had to travel by air. Townley expected audiences of 20-30,000 people per day over the course of his tour of North Dakota.

Governor Lynn Frazier introduced Townley to flying. The experience convinced Townley that he could make use of aviation for campaigning. His friends were reported to be nervous about the idea, feeling that air travel was still far too dangerous. They urged him to reconsider. But Townley was insistent. He felt there was no way to reach a broad audience any other way. He was absolutely determined to take to the air. The Bismarck Tribune was skeptical of such claims and dismissed fears for Townley’s life, saying “Flying is a great deal less dangerous than most people believe.” But the threat of danger was an effective means of getting attention. People anxiously followed Townley’s progress around the state.

North Dakota was an important state in the development of aviation. In 1928, Charles Lindbergh visited Fargo. His visit inspired Florence Klingensmith to take up flying. She convinced local businessmen to fund the purchase of an airplane. In return, the plane would sport advertisements promoting Fargo. Klingensmith won many flying awards, including the Amelia Earhart trophy which was presented by Earhart herself.

Carl Ben Eielson was another North Dakota aviator. He’s known as the “Father of Aviation” in Alaska, having done much of his flying in the far north – including a daring flight over the North Pole. In 1929, President Hoover awarded Eielson the Harmon Trophy for the outstanding aviator of the year.

It might seem surprising to think of politician Art Townley in the same category with such outstanding aviation pioneers, but he did break new ground by taking to the air for politics.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bismarck Tribune. “Townley Plans on Making Air Tour of State.” 8 May, 1920.

North Dakota Studies. “The Nonpartisan League.” "http://ndstudies.gov/gr8/content/unit-iii-waves-development-1861-1920/lesson-4-alliances-and-conflicts/topic-7-nonpartisan-league-and-iva/section-4-nonpartisan-league-control-state-government-1919" http://ndstudies.gov/gr8/content/unit-iii-waves-development-1861-1920/lesson-4-alliances-and-conflicts/topic-7-nonpartisan-league-and-iva/section-4-nonpartisan-league-control-state-government-1919 Accessed April 6, 2017.

Find a Grave. “Florence ‘Tree Tops’ Klingensmith.” "https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=71197891" https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=71197891 Accessed April 6, 2017.

Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.