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Morris “Dinger” Daugherty was a daredevil pilot who thrilled crowds across the country with his flying exploits during the Roaring Twenties. He was born Morris Raymer Daugherty in New Martinsville on December 22, 1894, the son of Harvey and Mary Viola Morris Daugherty. He earned his nickname when someone now lost to the pages of history said, “He sure is a humdinger!”

The start to his career was much less adventurous. As a boy, he had been a good athlete who quit high school to take a college business course in Wheeling. He read law under his grandfather and tried some cases before the justice of the peace and in mayor’s court. After being elected constable back in New Martinsville, he helped enforce the law and track down children skipping school.

He also got a job as a patrolman on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, where his main responsibility was to look for hobos cadging free rides on freight cars. On July 30, 1918, three days after receiving his military draft notice, he was on the job in New Martinsville trying to evict a couple of transient men when he slipped and fell under a moving train. He miraculously survived, but the incident broke his back and amputated both legs and his right arm. He was rushed 27 miles to the nearest medical facility, Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale, where he recuperated for 78 days. He was soon fitted with prosthetic legs.

Having barely escaped with his life, one presumes Daugherty would have found a safer occupation. Instead, he became a stunt pilot. He went to work for Seaman’s Flying Circus and barnstormed across the nation, performing trick maneuvers in rickety biplanes during aviation’s infancy. He wrote an autobiographical booklet about his exploits, The Hobo of the Air. When asked where in New Martinsville Daugherty landed his planes, one person replied, “Wherever he wants to.”

Daugherty had become one of the 1920s’ overnight celebrities. The goal of every daring pilot at that time was to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1957, he described the plane he chose for that adventure: “It was an old rattletrap 1915 JI Standard. I had it all wired together with bailing wire. In fact, it was more bailing wire than it was plane.” His plan was to raise money in New York for the flight, but he nearly failed to make it that far. High winds over the Alleghenies almost crashed his plane, and he was forced to make an emergency landing in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When he finally reached New York’s Roosevelt Field, almost 100 photographers and cameramen were there to greet him, and the New York Times ran an article about him. Once airport officials got a look at his plane, they immediately grounded it, leaving him stranded in the Big Apple. Already a minor celebrity at this point, he briefly became the toast of New York’s nightlife and even danced the Charleston on his prosthetic legs for cheering fans. In fact, dancing became one of his favorite activities, and based on contemporary accounts, he was quite good at it.

After bribing an airfield guard to look the other way, Daugherty retrieved his plane and flew back to New Martinsville. He started cutting down on his flying time and began writing music—13 songs in all, including one about New Martinsville tavern keeper Pete Altamese and his popular fish dinners. He would put on song-and-dance routines at local Lion’s Club shows and other events. For a brief time, he ran a poolroom and then served as justice of the peace of Magnolia District and as the Wetzel County assessor. He also came up with a few inventions, such as a remote-controlled lawnmower.

“Dinger” Daugherty died in New Martinsville on August 6, 1964, and is remembered as a legend in the annals of his hometown.

Last Revised on March 28, 2023

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McColloch, Sam. Dinger Daugherty: New Martinsville's Fabulous Flying Fool. Goldenseal, 40, 4, Winter 2014.

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Morris Raymer "Dinger" Daugherty." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 28 March 2023. Web. 29 May 2024.


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