Levitt Luzern Custer was a Dayton-area aviator and inventor, and an associate of Orville Wright. During his lifetime he engaged in pioneering balloon experiments, served as an official timer for flight trials, collaborated with Orville Wright on various projects, and invented a wide range of mechanical machines from the statoscope to amusement park rides.
The following is the second in a two-part blog series written by WSU Public History student Emily McAlhany, as part of a class project.
L. Luzern Custer invented all kinds of things at his company, Custer Specialty Company, although mostly big electrical things.
One of his first inventions was the statoscope, which notices the rise or fall of an aircraft. It is better than an altimeter at recognizing slight sudden changes. This helps balloonists know more quickly when they need to add hot air or lose some weight from the balloon.
In 1936, Luzern made an Aviation Training Machine for pilots. It simulated flight conditions, and it would move and tilt so the pilot could experience flight patterns. This was the first of its kind used to train pilots in the Army and Navy for World War II.
To make it easier to get around defense plants and airports for security reasons, Luzern made two trucks. One was the Utility Truck, and the other was the Comet. They ran off of electricity and were used to move luggage and other heavy materials around.
For the defensive end in World War II, he made a Flame Thrower. He also made a three-wheeled package scooter to travel around the base to deliver messages to the high officers.
Luzern made many non-military inventions. He was known for his amusement park rides. The park car was popular with parks because it ran on batteries, and the balloon tires meant it could run on any type of track. Along with the car he also invented a starting and stopping device. The car would go over the first wire, and the engine would start. Then when it went over the other wire, it would stop automatically.
In Luzern’s gravitational chair ride, the passenger was seated in a chair that moved in a circular path. The position of the chair was determined by its relationship to the position of the rest of the apparatus. The chair’s movement was erratic and entirely beyond the control of the occupant.
Luzern also made water rides. His first was the Custer “C” Cycle, which was a paddle-wheel, pontoon-like watercraft. It was driven by foot power with a bicycle chain and sprockets. It was not just used for amusement parks; fishermen and hunters used it as well.
Luzern also made a car: a regular car that could be driven on the street or in a hospital. This was a three-wheeled car with a small turning radius and smooth motion. It was cheap and could be stored on the back porch. The gasoline model could go seventy-five miles on one gallon, and the electric model was used by invalids in the hospital.
The Levitt Luzern Custer Papers (MS-302) were donated to Wright State University Special Collections & Archives in August 2000 by Luzern’s son James.