Aviation Pioneer

Historical Marker #1222 in Carter County remembers early aviation innovator Matthew Bacon Sellers.

Matthew B. Sellers was born into a family of wealth and privilege. His father, also named Matthew, was born in Kentucky and had been a wealthy planter in Louisiana before and during the Civil War. Matthew’s mother—the elder Sellers’ second wife—Angeline Leathers Lewis, had roots in Carter County, Kentucky. After the Civil War Matthew’s father sold his plantation lands and moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland. It was in Baltimore that Matthew was born in 1869.

Sellers was afforded the best education possible at private academies both in the United States and in Europe. He earned a law degree from Harvard in 1892, and studied extensively at Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School. He was fascinated with the possibilities of aeronautics.

After Matthew’s father passed away, his mother purchased property in Carter County, where they lived part of the year. There they built a frame home they named “Blakemore.” It was at Blakemore that Matthew constructed a wind tunnel and experimented with aerodynamics at about the same time the Wright Brothers were making history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1908—four years after the Wright Brothers’ flight—Sellers made his first flight in a four-winged powered craft in Carter County.

In 1911, Sellers’ assistant, Lincoln Binion, was killed in a propeller accident. Soon thereafter Sellers moved to New York, but kept working in the field. He served on the Aerodynamic Laboratory Commission and on the National Advisory Commission for Aeronautics. Sellers had lived most of his life off of his family’s fortune and investments, however, when the stock market crashed in 1929, he lost a significant amount of his wealth. Sellers died in 1932 after a short bout with pneumonia.