It has been just over a century since this remarkable man seen here in a hot air balloon became Hon. Treasurer of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, later to become the Royal Automobile Club. This is a caricature of Frank Hedges Butler (1855-1927), a founder member of the Club and also aviator, motorist and wine merchant. He was elected to the ACGBI on 15 December 1897 and became the Club’s first Hon. Treasurer. He was also a member of the Circle of Nineteenth Century Motorists, the Automobile Club de France, and the Royal Thames Yacht Club. It was Frank Hedges Butler who conceived the idea of selling life memberships, to create a financial nest egg for the Club. The members who availed themselves of the offer became known as the Club’s Founder Members and without their financial backing the Club would not have survived.
Hedges Butler’s interests weren’t just tied to the ground, he was also a keen balloonist, as this picture suggests. This lithograph, entitled ‘The Air’ appeared in the Vanity Fair series of coloured lithograph caricatures (which ran between 1869 and 1914). Hedges Butler made his first ascent in a balloon from Crystal Palace in London in September 1901 accompanied by his daughter and Charles Stuart Rolls. Apparently whilst flying over Sidcup, his daughter, Vera, suggested the formation of an aero club, thus he founded the Aero Club of the United Kingdom, which became the Royal Aero Club in 1910.