It was on Sunday 25th July 1909 that Louis Blériot became the first person to cross the English Channel in a airplane.
Blériot was a graduate of the École Centrale in Paris who had met and married Alice Vedène while performing military service as a lieutenant of artillery. He had built up a modest fortune as a manufacturer of headlamps and other automotive accessories which he used to fund his work in aeronautics. Following a series of experiments with a towed glider on the River Seine, he built and tested a variety of powered aircraft, ranging from box-kite biplanes to a tail-first monoplane. It was on this day – Sunday 25th July 1909 that he piloted a monoplane with a 25-horsepower engine, his Bleriot XI, across the English Channel from Calais to Dover – a feat that won him a £1,000 prize that had been offered by the London Daily Mail. As a result of his achievement he became regarded as one of the leading aircraft pilots and manufacturers of the era.
Between July 1909 and the beginning of the First World War the Blériot factory produced more than 800 aircraft of designs based on the Blériot XI. The developing air forces of France, Britain, Italy, Austria, and Russia all operated Blériot machines, and flying clubs as far afield as Australia purchased his monoplanes.
Though successful, Blériot airplanes were among the most controversial of the era. A series of crashes resulting from the collapse of the relatively weak monoplane wings led to a temporary ban by the British government. Blériot himself was involved in identifying and remedying the problem and he consolidated his position as a leader of the aviation industry in 1914 by taking over the makers of the famous Spad biplane – an aircraft that was used by the French, and later American, air forces during World War I. Louis Blériot continued production of commercial aircraft during the postwar years.