The Jenny: Background information when reading Birdmen

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies

by Lawrence Goldstone

Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone X
Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2014, 448 pages

    Apr 2015, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Jenny

This article relates to Birdmen

Print Review

Two JennysIn Birdmen, Lawrence Goldstone describes how Glenn Curtiss diversified operations and courted a variety of vendors to deliver specialized engines and airplanes. Most notable amongst these were the JN series of airplanes built to fulfill an army request that both the engine and the propeller be at the front of the plane. Up until then crashes dislocated a rear-placed engine that would then roll forward and crush the pilot. The JN series, popularly known as the Jenny, went through a series of iterations with engine and other structural changes but the JN-4, with a Curtiss engine, was by far the most popular. World War I put production into overdrive with the Army, Navy and the Canadian armed forces all signing contracts for the plane.

During the war, the Jenny was used primarily as a trainer – 95% of pilots trained on the Jenny and, because her landing ability was tricky, it was said that if you could fly a Jenny, you could fly anything at all! The plane was occasionally used to carry cargo, and was also used for aerial ambulances. Despite being built for the war, the Jenny wasn't actually deployed but, instead, was used on and around home bases.

Lillian BoyerThe Jenny is considered to have contributed significantly to aviation, not because of its role during the war years, but because of its place after the war. Pilots returning home wanted to take up commercial aviation in some way and the surplus of Jennys lying unused in airfields around the country provided a perfect opportunity. For as little as $4,000 (today's worth) one could buy a working Jenny. This created a wild era of barnstorming (feats of flying) for much of the 1920s, with pilots attempting bolder and crazier stunts. The famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, used a Jenny to make his historic flight.

Upsidedown Jenny StampIt has been argued that the Jenny was responsible for the public's embrace of aviation and for future rules and regulations that allowed the industry to grow "wings" as it were. She flew with the first cargo load of U.S. airmail in 1918. In 1927, she retired from active military service and that same year the U.S. postal service issued a commemorative stamp in her honor, but mistakenly printed the image upside down. It is considered the most famous error in American philately and is a prized collector's item. A mint-condition specimen, of which there are only about 100, went for just under a million dollars. One of these stamps is a part of the collections of the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum – even if, much to the chagrin of philately enthusiasts, the institution only displays it occasionally. The USPS have recently issued an inverted Jenny souvenir sheet of six stamps - $2 each.

Two Jennys in flight, photo courtesy of San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives.
Lillian Boyer doing the Breakway, photographer unknown.
1918 U.S. Air Mail $.24 stamp printing error, "Inverted Jenny" sheet position 57. This stamp sold at auction in 2007 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries for $977,500.00, uploaded by

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Birdmen. It originally ran in May 2014 and has been updated for the April 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.