Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Who Owns the Sky?

Who Owns the Sky?

The Struggle to Control Airspace from the Wright Brothers On

Stuart Banner

ISBN 9780674030824

Publication date: 11/30/2008

In the summer of 1900, a zeppelin stayed aloft for a full eighteen minutes above Lake Constance and mankind found itself at the edge of a new world. Where many saw hope and the dawn of another era, one man saw a legal conundrum. Charles C. Moore, an obscure New York lawyer, began an inquiry that Stuart Banner returns to over a century later: in the age of airplanes, who can lay claim to the heavens?

The debate that ensued in the early twentieth century among lawyers, aviators, and the general public acknowledged the crucial challenge new technologies posed to traditional concepts of property. It hinged on the resolution of a host of broader legal issues being vigorously debated that pertained to the fine line between private and public property. To what extent did the Constitution allow the property rights of the nation’s landowners to be abridged? Where did the common law of property originate and how applicable was it to new technologies? Where in the skies could the boundaries between the power of the federal government and the authority of the states be traced?

Who Owns the Sky is the first book to tell this forgotten story of elusive property. A collection of curious tales questioning the ownership of airspace and a reconstruction of a truly novel moment in the history of American law, Banner’s book reminds us of the powerful and reciprocal relationship between technological innovation and the law—in the past as well as in the present.


  • Banner claims that with this work he has written an intellectual history of American aviation law in the first half of the 20th century. And he has done exactly that--very well...This book is not only a great repository of the history of the question it poses, but is also a great yarn. Banner's friendly writing style gets one through the stickier details, and one simply feels better--not just better informed--for having read the book.

    —James T. Crouse, Times Higher Education


  • Stuart Banner is Norman Abrams Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author