1897 UFO Encounter May Have Coined the Term “Flying Saucer”

Most UFOlogists will tell you the earliest the term “flying saucer” was used was to describe the movements of the objects perceived by Kenneth Arnold as he recalled seeing a series of strange objects flying through the skies, skipping like saucers across water.  But an even earlier account, that of a farmer by the name of John Martin may have used the term even earlier.  One of the interesting things about the John Martin UFO encounter is how well it stands the test of time.

It all started one January day in 1878 as a Texas farmer set out one morning to hunt wild game.  It was an unseasonably warm morning as historical accounts recall, which fit the Texas landscape just fine.  Martin was a farmer who supplemented his trade with the occasional foraging expedition into the wilderness where he would shoot some wild game.  He had heard many a tall tale come from the lone star state, but was completely flabbergasted when he observed what we would call today a drone in the southern sky.

The object looked distant, first appearing the size of a man’s fist as it soared through the air like an eagle without a care in the world.  The object, which was said to be perfectly spherical in shape, shot across the sky in a straight line until it was directly over his head.  By the time it was nearly on top of him he noticed the object grew in size to about that of a saucer.  The object perplexed John as flying machines of this size were virtually unheard of aside from birds and lighter than air balloons.  But birds didn’t naturally have a spherical shape and balloons coasted through the air drifting lazily on the wind.  With the device he encountered on his windless trek he believed the object may have been somehow under intelligent control.

The newspapers at the time described Mr. Martin as a gentleman of undoubted veracity, serving to secure his reliability as a witness.  The object could easily have been any color, as only the bottom part of it was visible to Mr. Martin on the ground as it passed overhead – and even then only for a very brief period of time.  The object was also significantly smaller than a traditional unidentified flying object – appearing only, as John described it, the size of a saucer.

It may be a bit of a split hair as far as Fortean factoids go, but the timeless description of the flying saucer has become such a mainstay of the UFO field that its simplest terminology is a matter of considerable scrutiny.  And before it seems that John Martin’s description of the flying saucers is invalid, it should be noted that Kenneth Arnold too wasn’t using the term to describe the actual shape of the objects he spotted in 1947, but rather the way they moved.  Saucer shaped UFOs came only later, though the actual term eventually came into wide use in the late 1940’s and 50’s finally persisting even today.  UFOlogist and former nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman, for example, has in the past recommended the use of the term flying saucer in many cases where the origins of the object are not in question and it appears to be a saucer shaped craft.