The First Oshkosh — No, it wasn’t in 1970

Anyone attending AirVenture this year can look around the grounds and see we’re celebrating something special — EAA’s 50th convention in Oshkosh. Except we’re not. If you read the fine print, as it were, you’ll see that we’re actually celebrating the 50th consecutive convention. That’s because, before we moved to Oshkosh permanently, EAA came for a visit, holding our fourth annual fly-in here on August 3-5, 1956.

After three fly-ins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the move was announced in the July 1956 issue of Experimenter, under the headline, “We’re Off To Oshkosh, B’Gosh!” The event was scheduled to coincide with the Winnebago Land International Air Meet and Races, hosted by racing legend and airport manager — and namesake — Steve Wittman, who was also the chairman of the fly-in committee.

While the airport was, obviously, well-suited to host our annual fly-in, the same cannot be said of the weather.

“The first afternoon brought quite a bit of rain and gloom, and on Saturday morning, the fog was right down to the ground,” wrote Leo J. Kohn in the September 1956 issue of Experimenter. “Sunday morning saw more rain and fog. … If the weather would have been clear over all three days, we are sure that attendance would have doubled.”

As it was, the event drew 51 showplanes and an estimated 300 visiting aircraft. Contemporary reports estimated total attendance of 100,000 people, just 500 of them EAA members. It was decided soon thereafter to avoid holding our convention in conjunction with other events, and the move back to Milwaukee for 1957 was announced in the same story.

“Bill Lotzer, manager of Curtiss-Wright Airport, has assured us that the airport will be ours on the weekend that we want it,” Kohn wrote.

It would be another 14 years before we brought our convention back to Oshkosh, this time for good. So, as we celebrate 50 in a row this year, spare a thought for those hardy souls who braved terrible weather the first time around, and for everyone who worked so hard back in 1970 to give Oshkosh the second chance it deserved.

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