A former railroad brakeman, professional circus acrobat, and parachutist (leaping from a balloon), Thomas Scott Baldwin was nearly 50 by the time of the Wright brothers’ historic breakthrough at Kitty Hawk in 1903, but he found the revolutionary new field of powered flight impossible to resist. He founded the Baldwin Airship Company in 1905 and three years later, built the 20-mph SC-1 dirigible for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. But his interest soon turned to heavier-than-air craft.
He wasted no time coming up with his own variation on the Curtiss Pusher, the first airplane designed and built by Glenn Curtiss, in 1909. Baldwin’s innovation was the use of steel tubing instead of wood for part of his craft’s airframe. He is believed to have built at least six Red Devils between 1910 and 1913, and he advertised airplanes by that name for sale in 1913, though documentation of his actual production is spotty. The Red Devil the Smithsonian purchased from New York’s Roosevelt Field, Inc. in 1950 is particularly mysterious: It has ailerons mounted between its wings. Most other known Red Devils have trailing-edge ailerons on each wing. And it was powered by a 50-horsepower Maximotor B-4, also used by Curtiss, Blériot, and the Wrights. However, most of the Red Devils Baldwin flew in public had Hall-Scott V8s that could propel the aircraft to a then-thrilling 60 mph.