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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Wright Brothers- Getting the Story Wright

(Updated 5/4/19) In researching the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers, be aware that everything in print or on-line needs to be evaluated for accuracy. Older newspaper accounts, for example, often provided inaccurate information. This was most noticeable with the first reporting of the December 17th 1903 first flights. The Dayton Daily News had the story mostly right on December 18th- see my post "Did the Daily News fail to carry the Wright's first flight?"  Printed material such as postcards, brochures, and booklets produced specifically to commemorate Wilbur and Orville are no exception.
The following account appeared in The Denver Republican, January 17, 1904. This same account appeared in the New York Herald, also on January 17th. Clippings of each were saved by the Wright Brothers, and are among the newspaper clippings in the Wright scrapbooks, a part of The Wright Brothers Collection held at the Dayton & Montgomery County Public Library. (I haven't researched which other newspapers may have carried this same story.)  Portions of the account are fabricated from the author's imagination.

The Denver Republican, January 17, 1904, The Machine That Flies, author's copy
a. The rendering of the aeroplane shows one propeller at the rear, and one propeller under the craft. "What they have built is not an airship supported by a gas bag and driven by a motor, but a scientific adaptation of the principles in a soaring eagle's flight, only that two motor driven screw fans, one with a horizontal resistance and the other with a perpendicular resistance, make the machine's flight something surpassing that of a soaring bird, for the machine can navigate the air in any direction..." (In reality, both propellers were to the rear in pusher configuration).
b. "As the culmination of five years of careful study and experimenting Wilbur and Orville Wright, two young men of Dayton, O., have constructed a machine which on Dec. 17 last easily flew more than three miles in the face of a wind blowing 21 miles an hour."  (In reality, four flights were made, 120', 195', 200', and 852'.)
c. "Orville, the younger, is nearly 30 and Wilbur is a few years older. Their total scientific training was got under Professor William Werthner in the old Central High School in Dayton...." (In reality, Wilbur had received his high school education in Richmond Indiana, though taking some courses at Central High. Orville was a student of Werthner's, but not to the extent that all his scientific training came from this source. The brothers independently researched all they could find on the subject.)

Scientific American reported the account of the first flight in their December 26, 1903 issue, with a number of errors. The aeroplane was not "started from the top of a 100-foot sand dune". It was not "pushed off" such that it "at first glided downward near the surface of the incline", and did not fly at the "height of about 60 feet, after which it was driven a distance of some three miles".

Scientific American, December 26, 1903, author's copy

The January 2, 1904 issue of Harper's Weekly repeated much of the same misinformation. "It was started from a platform on a high sand-hill, and ran down an gradually rose until it got up to sixty feet....Their practical experiments began in 1900, and starting with the knowledge gained by Lilienthal, and getting some good ideas from Mr. Octave Chanute, of Chicago, they seem to have worked to excellent purpose.....equipped with a rudder in the centre, and carrying the navigator's car and a gasoline engine which drives two six-bladed propellers, one of which drives the car upward, the other forward."

A Flying-Machine that Flies

January 2, 1904 Harper's Weekly, Author's copy.

The January 30, 1904 Harper's Weekly provided a more accurate account of the Wright's first flight, though they incorrectly identify the brothers as William and Orville Wright.

The Problem of Flight
January 30, 1904 Harper's Weekly, "The Problem of Flight", Author's copy.

The February 4, 1904 issue of The Independent ran an article "The Experiments of a Flying Man" by Wilbur Wright. Except there was just one problem; Wilbur Wright didn't write the article.

February 4, 1904 issue of The Independent, author's copy.
 From McFarlands "The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright", McFarland records that Wilbur responded by sending two letters, "one to the editor, and an open letter intended for publication in the Independent. The open letter is published in full in Miracle at Kitty Hawk, pp. 129-130. In this letter Wilbur Wright stated : "The bulk of the article consisted of carelessly arranged or garbled extracts from two addresses, which I delivered before the Western Society of Engineers.....Following this came extracts from two press dispatches....A few sentences from a strange source were interpolated, in which an attempt was made to describe the methods by which the power machine was sustained and propelled. This part was entirely fanciful and untrue."

February 4, 1904 The Independent, false report "One of the propellers was set to revolve vertically and intended to give a forward motion, while the other underneath the machine and revolving horizontally, was to assist in sustaining it in the air."
From McFarland's "The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright", he wrote "From the ensuing correspondence, it developed that the hoax had been perpetrated by a D. A. Willey, who claimed to have a letter of authorization from Wilbur Wright." Wilbur wrote to D. A. Willey March 1, 1904, and had this to say, "I never in my life wrote you a letter; I never gave authority to you to use my name in any way whatever; I never gave you authority to make extended verbatim quotations from my addresses before the Western Society of Engineers which are copyrighted by that Society. Neither has that Society given you such permission, the Secretary tells me. The Independent will probably publish a further statement regarding the matter. If not I will..."
The February 25, 1904 issue of The Independent provided a response that in lieu of taking responsibility for the forged article, simply attempted to brush it off as some sort of misunderstanding. 

February 25, 1904 issue of The Independent (author's copy) response to Wilbur Wright's complaint. "At times men of distinction have no time themselves to write an article, but are willing to give material or an interview from which the literary agent prepares the articles which will bear the signature of the person who has given the interview..." Can you see the steam coming out of Wilbur's ears at this point?
February 25, 1904 issue of The Independent response to Wilbur Wright's complaint.

Wilbur Wright did not find this retraction satisfactory, and so the March 10th, 1904 issue of The Independent, the editors buried the following retraction deep within that issue in small type....

March 10, 1904 issue of The Independent, author's copy. Wilbur has his say, "Your note is equivalent to an assertion that I furnished the matter for the article but objected only because my name was used...."

The following article from the June 14, 1906 The Lewistown Gazette has the account correct concerning the Wright's flights in Dayton in 1904 and 1905, but repeats the depiction of the aeroplane with a horizontal propeller under the air-ship. This is somewhat understandable, as the design of the Wright Flyer was kept secret by Wilbur and Orville through this period, despite many witnesses of these flights at Simm's Station. The account is as provided by the Wrights to the Aero Club of America, and reported in the Aero Club March 12, 1906 bulletin.

Lewistown Gazette, PA, June 14, 1906, author's copy.

 This rendering from The Globe, 1908, depicts Orville Wright and his brother Francis. And all this time I thought Wilbur Wright was involved somehow. Apparently Wilbur had a twin brother Francis who was the real mastermind behind the invention.

The Globe, 1908, Orville Wright and brother Francis, author's copy

The Daily News, New York, New York, December 17, 1933 issue with story "Thirty Years Ago", really blundered with the identification of this next photo.

The Daily News NY,NY, December 17, 1933 blunder. This is not a photo of Orville Wright and a West Milton Ohio barber, Curran by name.
The above photo is of Orville Wright and his brother Reuchlin Wright at Huffman Prairie in August of 1911. The first time the Wrights flew a passenger was at Kitty Hawk, May 14, 1908. Wilbur Wright flew with Charles W. Furnas aboard for a flight of 600 meters. Orville then took Furnas on a flight of 2 1/2 miles. This was witnessed by a group of newspaper correspondents  hiding nearby.

This postcard from the 30's states "This plane built by Orville Wright, flew a distance of 852 feet at Kitty Hawk, N. J., Dec. 17, 1903, which was the first flight of man in an airplane."
1911 Wright Glider incorrectly identified as 1903 Aeroplane
Count the errors-
a. This plane built by Orville Wright- The aeroplane was built by Wilbur and Orville Wright.
b. flew a distance of 852 feet at Kitty Hawk, N. J.- Since when is Kitty Hawk located in New Jersey??
c. which was the first flight of man in an airplane- No, it was the fourth flight of a man in an airplane. The 852' flight was the fourth flight of that morning.
d. The machine pictured is the Wright 1911 glider, not the 1903 Wright Flyer! Orville set a soaring record in 1911 in this glider. Note the lack of propellers and motor!
Similar errors occur in this next postcard. At least they've figured out Kitty Hawk is in North Carolina, and not New Jersey. Same errors though, confusing 1903 flight with the 1911 glider experiments. Wilbur made the fourth 852' flight, not Orville, and it didn't last just a few seconds. If it had, I doubt Wilbur would have survived (equivalent of 193.4 miles per hour). The flight lasted 59 seconds.

Seventh of a series of "Famous Events" issued by Kessler Distilling Company, N.Y. from the 1930's.

Dayton Wright Airplane Company was formed in 1917 by Edward A. Deeds, Charles F. Kettering, and Harold Talbott Sr. and Jr.. Orville Wright was a consulting engineer to the company.  One would think that the Dayton Wright Airplane Company would be accurate in their brochures, and if Orville had been given the opportunity to review the following booklet, he definitely would have made the corrections.
Pamplet by The Dayton Wright Airplane Company, Dayton Ohio
Dayton Wright Airplane Company booklet, author's copy.  Dayton Wright Airplane Co established 1917, closed 1923.

Dayton Wright Airplane Company An-Achievement, Page 1

Dayton Wright Airplane Company An-Achievement, Page 2

Notice the errors?
a. 1901 Original Wright Glider: The Wright Brothers first used a glider without a motor for experimenting in stability. The glider was operated by the pilot shifting his weight.- This glider was flown by the Wright Brothers, not Otto Lilienthal, and they did not shift their weight to fly this! 
b. These experiments were conducted at Kitty Hawk, N. C., in 1901.- The picture of the glider shown is from 1902, with Wilbur as the pilot. The glider experiments were conducted during 1900, 1901, 1902, and some in 1903. 
c. 1902 An Early Wright Machine in Flight: This machine was a pusher with elevator in front and stability obtained by warping the wings. This machine was flown from Kitty Hawk, N. C., in 1902.- The first flights were made on December 17, 1903, not 1902!

This artwork was offered by the Wright Aeronautical Corporation in 1928. Orville Wright was not associated with the company. The caption reads "The Wright brothers' "Strange Contraption" rises at Kitty Hawk, 1903" Look at it close, and see if you see the error:

1908 flyer incorrectly represented as the 1903 flyer in artwork

Hint- It's supposed to be 1903 at Kitty Hawk, not 1908! In 1903 the Wrights laid down to fly. This continued through 1904 and 1905. Seats were not added until 1908. Also, the skids were flat across the bottom in 1903. This picture is of a 1908 flyer.

The following are examples of collectables with embarrassing errors. These refrigerator magnets are currently being offered on E-bay with the name of Orville and Wilbur or Wright Brothers printed across a picture of Paul Zens (french aviator) and Wilbur Wright. The photos date to September 16, 1908, and were taken prior to Paul and Wilbur taking off on a two-man flight at Le Mans, France. Orville was at Ft. Myer during this time. 

Refrigerator magnet incorrectly identifying Paul Zens as Orville Wright.
Paul Zens and Wilbur Wright, September 16, 1908, Le Mans, France. Modern produced misidentified refrigerator magnet.
Refrigerator magnet with error. No Orville Wright.
The Wrong Brothers. Again, wouldn't it make sense to have a picture of Orville and Wilbur Wright on a refrigerator magnet in lieu of Paul Zens and Wilbur Wright? It can be yours for just $3.99 and $2.80 shipping!

Added 10/9/16- The Independent "The Experiments of a Flying Man"
Added 10/3/17- Harper's Weekly January 2, and 30, 1904 accounts.
Added 3/15/18- Kessler Distilling postcard showing Orville Wright and 1911 glider.
Added 4/13/18- Paul Zens impersonating Orville Wright.
Added 7/29/18- Second Paul Zens refrigerator magnet. What would Orville have thought of such careless errors?
Text revisions- 1/15/19
Added 5/4/19- Dayton Daily News "Thirty Years Ago" blunder.

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